Rivlin promises to watch award-winning ‘Foxtrot,’ praises Israeli cinema

Art form is ‘a symbol of freedom of expression and the strength of Israeli democracy,’ president says, bucking criticism from Culture Minister Regev

President Reuven Rivlin speats at an education conference in Kiryat Ono on August 22, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speats at an education conference in Kiryat Ono on August 22, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin promised Sunday to watch the Israeli film “Foxtrot,” which won the second-place Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival, despite the fact that it was slammed as anti-Israel by the Minister of Culture.

“I did not watch the film, but I’m going to watch it. I do not know if I will like it, but I will watch it as I try to watch every Israeli film,” he said of film, which has drawn vociferous criticism from Likud’s Culture Minister Miri Regev.

While admitting she had not watched the film, Regev railed on Saturday night against the award given to it.

“It’s outrageous that Israeli artists contribute to the incitement of the young generation against the most moral army in the world by spreading lies in the guise of art,” she said.

The Likud minister accused the film of giving “a tailwind to BDS [the Israeli boycott movement] and haters of Israel all around the world,” and called for the state to end funding to films that “become a weapon of propaganda for our enemies.”

In a meeting Sunday with a delegation of Hollywood executives and film producers, accompanied by Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles, Sam Grundwerg, Rivlin was decidedly more diplomatic, suggesting he would reserve judgment and praising Israeli cinema generally.

“In general,” he said, “I am a great fan of Israeli cinema, which is a symbol of freedom of expression and the strength of Israeli democracy. Israeli cinema is one of the most important ambassadors of Israel in the world because of its quality, and because of the way it reflects different aspects of life in Israel, with all the challenges and magic within it.”

Israelis, he said, were breaking through in Hollywood. “For many years we have been watching your shows, and now you are also watching Israeli shows. We even have Israeli superheroes,” he said, referring to Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

“Foxtrot” director Samuel Maoz on Saturday defended the film, saying no society can flourish when “critics are considered to be traitors.”

Director Samuel Maoz, center, and actors Lior Ashkenazi, left, and Sarah Adler pose during the photo call for the film “Foxtrot” at the 74th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, September 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

“If I criticize the place I live, I do it because I worry. I do it because I want to protect it. I do it from love,” he told reporters.

“Foxtrot” opens with an affluent Tel Aviv couple (Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler) being informed their soldier son has died in the line of duty.

The parents are floored by grief, and the film has more shocks in store for them as it explores the way trauma scars individuals and societies, and ripples across generations.

Maoz’s 2009 Venice winner, “Lebanon,” was a claustrophobic portrait of an Israeli tank crew, inspired by the director’s own experiences as a young soldier.

While “Foxtrot” has real-life roots, the director says he structured the film like a Greek tragedy, with three acts in which “the hero creates his own punishment and fights against anyone who tries to save him. And he is unaware of the outcome that his actions will bring about.”

The film’s middle section depicts the son’s experience as one of four soldiers manning a desolate roadblock. It is a life of muddy tedium with the potential for sudden violence.

Maoz has said the roadblock is more allegorical than real, a way of exploring conflict-scarred Israel “and the distorted perceptions that come out of terrible past trauma.”

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