Dance Macabre

This Israeli drama is a downer, but manages tension expertly

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Foxtrot
RPL Theatre
April 5–8

There is a tone Israeli films tend to hit, no matter the genre. Footnote, Big Bad Wolves, Aya, you name it, they are all coated by a sense of disenchantment and fatalism. Undoubtedly, that’s linked to the country’s sociopolitical history and ongoing anxiety over hostile neighbors. Think of a Yorgos Lanthimos movie minus the laughs.

Foxtrot hits the nail on the head more directly than others. An unapologetic drama about fate and the meaningless of life, it piques our interest by keeping the right bits of information under wraps. Yet the twists are organic and advance the characters’ inner journey.

The film is divided in three sections. The first focuses on Michael Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi, 7 Days in Entebbe) the morning he’s informed his son — an Israeli soldier — has died. The impact is somewhat lessened by all the errands and obligations Michael is forced to tackle. As we see him wrestling with his grief and the banality of death, we realize there is a lot wrong with his family life.

The second section is a flashback anchored by Michael’s soldier son, Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray). The kid is a sensitive cartoonist deployed on a semi-abandoned road with three other privates. Their main task is to monitor Palestinians entering and exiting Israel. Their job borders on harassment and the interactions with the visitors work as a microcosm of the oft-fraught relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

I won’t tell you what the final section is about, but it is riskier than it needed to be.

Among its many virtues, Foxtrot underscores the fact you don’t need a lot of money to make a meaningful film. An early shot featuring Michael in distress and an unfortunate carpet pattern is dizzying without any need for CGI or editing trickery.

There is one offense that nearly made me knock half a prairie dog off this review. There is a dance sequence mid-film that’s deemed foxtrot, but is actually a mambo. Kind of a problem when your movie is called Foxtrot.