Oscar hopeful ‘Foxtrot’ locked in Israel’s culture war

  • 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. AP file

  • File - In this Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017 file photo, director Samuel Maoz poses for portraits for the film "Foxtrot" at the 74th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. "Foxtrot", a drama exploring the occupation of the West Bank, and Israel's contender for this year's foreign language Oscar has received a rockier reception at home, where it is caught in the crossfire of Israel's culture war. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File) Domenico Stinellis

Associated Press
Thursday, November 02, 2017

Israel’s contender for this year’s foreign-language Oscar has swept local film awards and scored high honors at the Venice Film Festival.

But before it even hit the silver screen at home, Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot, a drama exploring Israel’s West Bank occupation and the modern Israeli psyche, has found itself caught in the crossfire of a raging culture war.

Culture Minister Miri Regev’s beef with Foxtrot is part of her ongoing battle with artists perceived as being critical of the Israeli government. Since taking office in 2015, Regev has moved to cut government funding to theaters and artists deemed disloyal to the state and troupes that refuse to perform in West Bank settlements.

Foxtrot plays out in three acts. Its title refers both to the name of an army checkpoint depicted in the movie and the dance, whose circular movement alludes to the cycles of generational trauma.

Act one follows the lives of an Israeli family after the parents learn that their son, a soldier, was killed in action. In a country where military service is mandatory for most Jews when they turn 18, the opening scene with the announcement of the young man’s death is the epitome of many Israeli parents’ worst fears.

Act two jumps back in time, to the young man’s military service and an unglorified depiction of Israeli army life at a remote checkpoint – the tedium, the muck, the misery.

Though Foxtrot never mentions Palestinians by name, and the people stopped by the soldiers at the checkpoint never utter a word, the film obliquely criticizes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as unjust, futile and morally corrupting.

The soldiers’ shipping container barracks is gradually sinking in the mud, a metaphor for the country as a whole.

“We’re tilting,” one soldier says after rolling a can of processed meat to gauge the barracks’ angle. “If we’re tilting then eventually we’ll turn over and sink. When it happens it’ll happen suddenly. I don’t know if I’ll have enough time to say ‘I told you so,’ so I’m telling you now.”

Act three revisits the parents a year after their son’s death and explores the way they relate to grief and loss.

Foxtrot was nominated for Best Film in Venice, where it won the runner-up Grand Jury Prize in September. It then swept the Ophir Awards, Israel’s most prestigious film honors, taking eight categories, including best film. The winner of the Ophir Best Film is submitted as the country’s Oscar submission.

Since 1964, 10 Israeli films have been nominated for the Academy Award’s best foreign film but none won.