Sundance 2018: Foxtrot

Foxtrot: “No matter what, you end up at the same spot.”

Written by: Michael Mejia

The foxtrot, as demonstrated in Samuel Maoz’s film by the same name, is a dance that traces a square: forward—right, right—back—left, left. Over and over. Foxtrot the film, its title referring both to the dance and to the codename of a sleepy Israeli army outpost near the country’s northern border, moves forward, patiently, almost agonizingly, but it, too, traces a tight square of connections, transgressions, and fateful coincidences. Or, similar to the design of an abstract painting hanging in protagonists Michael and Dafna Feldman’s foyer, one might say the film’s narrative skews through a sequence of sudden and monumental shifts, never completely erasing its previous plot lines, so that, like the foxtrot, as Michael says, “no matter what, you end up at the same spot.”

After an oblique opening from the point of view of a military vehicle rolling down an empty desert road, the film begins in earnest with Dafna opening the Feldman’s apartment door to a detachment of soldiers who’ve come to inform her and her husband of their son Jonathan’s death. They don’t actually make the announcement before Dafna hits the floor, her husband Michael watching from the next room, frozen and speechless as the soldiers work to calm her down. A syringe appears. The soldiers are prepared for this response. Disturbingly so. For the next ten minutes, a still silent Michael has the next day of his life dictated to him, essentially by his government: take this pill, drink a glass of water every hour, someone will be back to check on Dafna, the military will make all the arrangements for Jonathan’s funeral. Left alone, Michael’s grief turns gradually to a rather glorious rage, which, at its height—assisted by the particular set of his silver beard and hair—makes him seem like a wrathful, Biblical father, perhaps even God himself. Michael is an architect, after all.

But nothing here is quite what it seems. While the soldiers sent to inform the Feldman’s of their tragedy represent military service as an efficient and honorable duty, the realities faced by the young soldiers posted at the damp and rusting Foxtrot outpost, featured in the film’s second movement, illustrate a much less organized or controlled environment, at least at their level, in this spot, where wild camels are as common on the road as vehicles.

How this sequence and the film’s final section are connected to the first is best to leave unwritten here, but the formal choreography throughout is as elegant as that of the camera’s, and the intelligent, play-like script balances substantial, actor-friendly silence with powerful monologues, as well as one of the best dance scenes with a rifle you’ll see this year.

One may well wonder if Foxtrot is too constructed, too dependent on an all encompassing structure telegraphed by that perfectly placed painting at the opening. And yet, even when we’re onto its game of connections, the film is still capable of often devastating surprise, so that even its cruelest irony feels not just right, with respect to form, but natural, even necessary, in the much grander, metaphysical scheme.

Foxtrot is a formalist’s dream, a knot of questions about fate and choice, about responsibility and guilt, and ultimately forgiveness and atonement, and the sacrifices we make for them.

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Michael Mejia
Michael Mejia
Novelist and University of Utah professor Michael Mejia is a veteran crew member of such Hollywood classics as Carnasaur, Love, Cheat, and Steal, and The Day My Parents Ran Away.

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