• [The Daily] Venice + Toronto 2017: Samuel Moaz’s Foxtrot

    By David Hudson

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    “Lebanon director Samuel Maoz went in a risky direction by making a film as different and daring as Foxtrot,” writes Jay Weissberg for Variety, “and his boldness pays off in ways that make one reach for superlatives. Not content to merely confront the unspeakable grief of parents who lose a child, Maoz uses the film’s tripartite structure to encompass a devastating litany of Israeli attributes that run the gamut from machismo to racism to a past subverted by the Holocaust and then back again to grief. Just as no novel can tackle a mother’s fear of learning her soldier son is dead without being compared to David Grossman’s stunning To the End of the Land, so no film will be able to deal with a similar subject without being weighed against Foxtrot. Brilliantly constructed with a visual audacity that serves the subject rather than the other way around, this is award-winning filmmaking on a fearless level.”

    “Jonathan Feldman, a young conscript in the Israeli army, is dead,” explains the Guardian’s Xan Brooks. “His mother Davra (Sarah Adler) collapses at the news and is immediately sedated as she lies on the floor by the door. His father Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) is full of cold fury.” The military then admits “they’ve made a blunder. A Jonathan Feldman has died; just not his Jonathan Feldman. ‘My son was dead for five hours,’ he fumes. If anything, he’s more furious than before. Part two jumps without warning from the Feldmans’ oppressive apartment to the blighted northern border; from intensive close-ups to wide shots of a lunar landscape that could double for limbo. . . . The film’s third section lands us back in the city. . . . Maoz’s message is plain. This world is off-balance—and every day it gets worse.”

    “It takes a warped mind to sandwich the tragedy and somberness of Three Colors: Blue with the absurdist tone of an Aki Kaurismäki comedy,” writes Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa, “but Maoz is at pains to show that even when characters live under a permanent dark cloud, there are also moments of laughter.”

    For IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, “despite its dreary overtones, Maoz pierces his milieu with flashes of perceptive satire, an animated interlude, and a touching, romantic finale, all of which adds up to a wonderfully unexpected hodgepodge of insights into intergenerational Israeli frustrations.”

    “The film is definitely a strong experience,” writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter, “but putting it all together is up to the viewer. Taking a clue from the title, the characters seem to have a date with destiny because no matter what they do, they always end up in the same spot, like the forward and backward steps of the foxtrot. . . . In keeping with the film's bizarre, alienated style, cinematographer Giora Bejach makes effective use of an expressionist palette that ranges from bright, sunny desert colors to sickly green shades of mud and sleep-deprived faces.”

    “Seasoned veterans Ashkenazi and Adler, most of the time speaking barely above a whisper, make every single word, every look in their eyes and every bit of body language count, in what may be arguably some of the best work they’ve ever delivered on screen,” writes Dan Fainaru for Screen. “As for the straightforward, natural, unpretentious demeanor of inexperienced [Yonatan] Shiray playing their son, it provides just the right contrast between the two generations.”

    At CineVue, John Bleasdale finds that “for all the emotional depths of its subject matter,” Foxtrot is “a humorous and entertaining movie.”

    Updates, 9/6: “Maoz's use of space and depth in Foxtrot is superb, and it also helps add another layer of absurdity to the piece,” finds Thomas Humphrey at ScreenAnarchy.

    “The idea comes from an incident that happened to me a long time ago,” Moaz tells Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa. The story that follows chills the blood.

    Update, 9/7: “The discovery of fresh, bold voices in cinema has always been one of the great joys of visiting film festivals,” writes Zhuo-Ning Su at the Film Stage. “And this year in Venice, probably no film in competition surprised more for its original touch and sheer vitality than Samuel Maoz’s Israel-set drama Foxtrot.

    Update, 9/8: “If Maoz doesn’t always manage to fully keep up with the fierce rhythm of his own storytelling, he makes up for it with the sheer virtuosity and boldness that brings his film alive,” writes Pamela Jahn for Cinema Scope.

    Update, 9/15: Foxtrot eventually becomes “a cross-generational study of institutionally-mandated trauma,” writes Tommaso Tocci at Ioncinema. “It takes a while to get there, and you wouldn’t necessarily predict a spectacular dance scene at a border checkpoint or a camel wandering around by itself to be part of the journey. And yet that’s where the movie shines.”

    For Paul O’Callaghan, writing for Sight & Sound, “the emerging triptych structure and flashy authorial intrusions have shattered the sense of intimacy and authenticity that made the opening scenes so stirring. But as the full story of Jonathan’s demise finally takes shape, it transpires that Maoz has kept a final, bitterly cruel trick up his sleeves. This elegant, compellingly multifaceted film makes Lebanon’s Golden Lion win seem entirely premature.”

    Update, 9/17: “It’s a damning indictment that's already stirred up controversy back in Moaz’s native country, as well as a tragicomic tale that’s ambitious enough to include near-pornographic animation and the greatest dancing-soldier scene this side of Beau Travail,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear.

    Update, 10/12: “It’s a film that can swing between absurdist humor and brutal gut-punch sadness, in a way that’s rare and, at times, truly profound,” writes Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist. “There might be one twist of the knife too many in a way that feels a touch cruel, but otherwise it’s a film deserving of the acclaim and awards it’s picked up so far. Hopefully, it just won’t be another eight years until we see more from its director.”

    Venice and Toronto 2017 indexes. For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

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