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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Foxtrot has been hugely controversial in Israel, but that’s as it should be. The country’s Minister for Culture, Miri Regev, condemned it as giving comfort to Israel’s enemies, after it won the jury prize at Venice last year. She had not yet seen it. The right wing in Israel objected to the film’s depiction of Israeli soldiers covering up evidence of a killing. It is very clear in the movie that the incident is an accident but that the cover-up is deliberate and orchestrated from higher up. Clearly, that part rankled the country's leadership - perhaps more than the film's depiction of five underused and bored soldiers quietly going insane in the desert.
One of these soldiers is Jonathon, the son of Michael and Dafna. In a surreal moment, he dances with his rifle as if it’s a woman, twirling and wooing her on the road, making his comrades laugh. The dance is poignant and silly, and shot in such a way as to make us sense the irony. He’s just a kid, horsing around, trying to entertain his pals and relieve some tension; he’s also a bulwark, a defender of the nation.
The scene works also as a metaphor for the Israeli predicament, having to defend an outpost where the main traffic is a single camel that passes each day along the road by itself. The title also refers to a dance – one in which the dancer takes a step forward, backward, to the side and ends up back where he started. Draw your own conclusions.
The father Michael is unsympathetic - even to the point of kicking the family dog, which makes his grief seem even more acute. The effect is to put us off balance. The combination of tension and humour in act two, the desert outpost, takes that even further. It’s an extraordinary film, far from easy, ultimately thoughtful and hard to forget.