Foxtrot

Oy! Another Oscar nominated foreign film, another disappointment. This time, it’s the Israeli drama Foxtrot, which started off strong. It also ended strong. It’s all the surrealistic crap in the middle that just didn’t work. If I want to see the absurdity of life in the military, I’ll stick with Catch-22 and M*A*S*H* (both the movie versions of those came out the same year — 1970).

It’s a shame that it starts with such a powerful premise (a couple being told their enlisted son is dead), only to make us spend almost two hours being bored and trying to figure out what we’re watching.

Writer/director Samuel Moaz (Lebanon) should’ve just dropped that middle part, or done it in a more accessible way.

We start with Michael (Lior Ashkenazi, reminding me of Marcello Mastroianni) and Daphna Feldman (Sarah Adler) being told their son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) was killed. Watching them grieve is powerful for those 30 minutes. Much like how Steve Carell’s character wanted to see his son’s body in the criminally underrated Last Flag Flying, so does Michael.

That’s when things get wild, although I can’t explain why without spoiling it. It is interesting, though.

The film goes back to the checkpoint Jonathan is stationed at. An early scene shows a camel walking down the road with him lifting the cross bar to let it pass. That was mildly amusing, but not much else was. The soldiers he’s hanging out with aren’t that interesting. Watching them check the IDs of various cars that stop by isn’t worth our time. Neither is listening to them talk about a bible traded for a porn magazine, or shooting off fireworks, or playing with toys. It’s one of the most dull 40 minutes you’ll spend watching a film.

The third act goes back to being interesting, as it’s always fascinating to hear what a couple says to each other when dealing with grief. We also find something out about the father that we sort of suspected, but still packs a punch. Those two are terrific actors and there’s some thought-provoking dialogue. Yet it makes it all the more frustrating that the momentum of the drama in the first act was ruined by the middle section. Perhaps if they just did quick flashbacks to the soldiers, and we were always going back to the grieving couple, it would’ve worked.

Moaz was too ambitious for his own good. It’s a shame, because the title Foxtrot works itself into the film nicely, too. It all just felt disjointed which ruins the engrossing segments. One of those segments involves Michael telling his mom the sad news about her soldier grandson. The fact that she starts the conversation snapping at him, “Tuck in your shirt!”

Such a riveting segment of the film.

The movie just ends up being self-indulgent, and the surreal imagery doesn’t work (for example, watching cans of meat starting to bubble on a stove).

At one point my wife leaned in and said, “Is he going to die or…are we gonna die of boredom?”

It’s not as laborious as Loveless, but it’s a movie that only hardcore cinephiles will appreciate.

2 stars out of 5.