Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray, Gefen Barkai, Dekel Adin, Shaul Amir, Itay Exlroad, Danny Isserles, Itamar Rotschild, Roi Miller, Arie Tcherner, Yehuda Almagor, Shira Haas, Karin Ugowski
Written by: Samuel Maoz
Directed by: Samuel Maoz
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content including graphic images, and brief drug use
Language: In Hebrew, with English subtitles
Running Time: 108
Date: 03/16/2018
IMDB

Foxtrot (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Universal Soldier

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Of the batch of 2017 "official Oscar submissions" from various countries — usually a dreary, self-important lot — I can safely say that I liked Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot, from Israel, best. It did not receive a nomination, of course, because it's far edgier, more artistic, and more interesting than the stuff that usually wins.

In it, a couple — Dafna (Sarah Adler) and Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) — receives a knock at the door. Their son, a soldier, has been reported killed in the line of duty. Dafna is given a sedative, and Michael receives instructions to keep drinking water. Michael’s older brother Avigdor (Yehuda Almagor) shows up, and a religious officer describes in uncomfortable detail what will happen to the body and at the funeral.

Knowing what Oscar submissions are frequently up to, this beginning made me want to give up and walk away, but take my word for it: stick around. Things pick up. The second part deals with the son, Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray), in his so-called "line of duty." He has been ordered, along with three other men, to guard a desolate road. They bunk in a trailer that seems to be sinking into the mud at one end. And an old ad with a woman's smiling face taunts them in the background. The most that happens one day is that a camel passes serenely through their checkpoint.

But when a car finally does show up, things go terribly wrong. The third act reverts from the homestead, with husband and wife beginning to relate to each other in new ways after a marriage that had seemingly grown bored, to the front. I can't say much more, but this act contains a knife twist so brutal you'll be picking your jaw from the floor as the credits roll.

Foxtrot certainly has things to say about Israel and its history — Michael's mother is a Holocaust survivor — but it's also a universal parable about war, love, family, and many of the other things that make us human. Maoz's approach is masterly, his camera unerringly choosing either gloomy close-ups or wryly funny wider angles. Some of it is so bizarre it could be called surreal, but in the end it's the best kind of "message" cinema; it gets its agenda across in an indirect way that's so emotionally, dreamily affecting that it creeps in and stays long afterward.

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