Film: Quagmire

‘Foxtrot’: An unusual tragi-comedy about a war that never ends

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‘Foxtrot,’ playing this week at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Center, is an Israeli film that tells the story of a family dealing with the loss of its military son.

It’s not funny, ha-ha—it’s funny, Kafka. The slightly surreal Israeli tragi-comedy Foxtrot astonishes with its ability to thrive on serious tonal shifts, flash-forwards and a bit of animation.

A pair of soldiers comes to the door of Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Daphna (Sarah Adler, of Notre Musique) with a regret-to-inform-you notice that their son Jonathan has been killed. Daphna keels over in a dead faint. The troops get busy, lifting her skirt and shooting her full of tranquilizers. One soldier insists that the horrified father drink water every hour to keep hydrated, programming his cellphone for reminders. Then comes word that the dead son is posthumously promoted from corporal to staff sergeant. A nebbish of a chaplain arrives to outline all of the mandatory religious gestures the funeral must contain. Suddenly, startling news arrives, just as a murmuration of starlings darkens the windows.

We travel to checkpoint Foxtrot, deep in a windy desert, where it looks like it’s already after the end of the world. The seemingly late Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) and his three fellow troops are bivouacked in a freight container that’s slowly sinking into the grey mud. When it doesn’t rain buckets, it drips. Here’s the forlorn comedy of soldiers living in filth and talking their trash.    

One particularly piercing scene is of a plump, nicely dressed mom kept at the checkpoint, forced to stand in a cloudburst, trying not to cry as her dress and her hair are ruined. Meanwhile, an antique computer slowly buzzes and blats out an OK for her to proceed.

It’s a typical soldier’s duty—dead boredom punctuated with minutes of fright; finally, there’s one wrong move, and terrible calamity. Samuel Maoz (2009’s Lebanon) demonstrates a depth of feeling and a sense of bitter absurdity. And he doesn’t make the prime mistake of a director telling a story of a perhaps justifiable war. As per the scene of the drenched, humiliated mom, Maoz never even once claims that the hunters suffer as much as the hunted.

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