Samuel Maoz’s movie “Foxtrot” — acclaimed abroad, reviled by our Culture Minister Miri Regev — is not always fair to Israel.
If a non-Israeli filmmaker had made a feature film whose pivotal scene involved panicked Israeli soldiers accidentally shooting dead a car full of Palestinian civilians at a checkpoint and then literally burying the evidence, with senior IDF officialdom thoroughly complicit in the cover-up, many of us might be outraged by it. Our army, our people’s army, we would insist, would and could never do any such thing.
But no non-Israeli could possibly have made a film like “Foxtrot.” This is not an outsiders’ work of Israel-bashing. It is an insider’s anguished, passionate, perceptive production — so powerfully resonant, for Israelis, indeed, as to make watching parts of it a veritable ordeal.
Its depiction of the end-of-the-world experience that thousands of Israeli parents have undergone over the decades, when the buzzer lacerates a household’s calm and the army is there to tell them that their child has “fallen in the line of duty,” is so agonizing, so raw, as to constitute almost unbearable viewing. Rarely can a non-documentary filmmaker have captured the abject terror and denial that successive Israeli generations have routinely, horrifyingly had to endure when their soldier offspring are out there, somewhere, risking their lives to ensure that our country can survive in this toxic neighborhood.
These scenes, these early scenes of the movie, are dramatized insights into the reality that I would imagine many Israelis — certainly including our culture minister — might actually want the whole world to watch, the better to understand the price we continually pay for our very existence.
“Foxtrot” is beautifully filmed, and it is laced with humor, but its vision is bleak. Entertainment, in the usual understanding of the word, it most certainly is not. You might call it a dissident movie, railing artistically against the seemingly endless bereavements and tragedies of our presence here. But rather than explicitly or even implicitly blaming Israel’s governments for the Foxtrot dance of death that always returns us to our starting point, Moaz — himself a gunner in the 1982 Lebanon war — is channeling despair.
No, “Foxtrot” is not always fair to Israel. That central shooting and burying scene is a little less surreal and rather more realistically presented than some of its defenders have asserted — but it depicts a sequence of events that is beyond hard to reconcile with the IDF as we know it. Another of its most powerful scenes, earlier in the film, involves the same soldiers at the same checkpoint forcing an Arab couple, elegantly dressed on their way to a wedding, to get out of their car in a heavy downpour. The scene is a brief exercise in wordless condemnation by the filmmaker. As their finery soaks through, and her makeup congeals, the camera lingers long on the couple’s expressions. Disappointment, injured innocence, bitterness, momentary wry humor, and humiliation pass across their features. Such unnecessary unpleasantness by Israeli troops may not be implausible, but as depicted here, it defies even the internal logic of the movie. These soldiers, at that checkpoint, wouldn’t have done it.
But this is filmmaking. This is art. Not an assignment in logic or fairness.
And as filmmaking, as art, it demonstrates Israeli skill and flair and creativity — qualities we champion. It also exemplifies Israeli questioning and agonizing and frustration and introspection — qualities without which we would not flourish.
“Foxtrot” is up for a series of major awards Tuesday at Israel’s Ophirs — a ceremony to which Regev has not been invited; it may well become Israel’s Oscar entry, which would doubtless infuriate Regev still further, the more so since Israeli government film funding helped to finance it (along with about a dozen other funders).
The minister, who has vowed to change the way such funding is allocated — “what was the case is not what will be the case,” she told Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday — is reported not to have seen a film she has denounced as “self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israel narrative.” If she did see it — which, being as how she’s the culture minister, she really should — she might be surprised to discover how effectively it reflects some of the more mundane realities of Israeli military service, thoroughly familiar to her from her previous position as IDF spokesperson.
She’d hate parts of the movie for sure. I certainly didn’t find much of it easy or pleasurable viewing. But one needs to internalize that it is only fragile and brittle societies — not robust ones — that cannot tolerate constructive dissent.
The Times of Israel hosted two exclusive screenings of “Foxtrot,”
with English subtitles, on Sunday, October 15 at Lev Smadar, Jerusalem, and Monday, October 16 at Lev 1, Tel Aviv. There was a Q&A with Samuel Maoz after each screening.