Israeli director Samuel Maoz begins ‘Foxtrot’ with a masterful depiction of one of those moments where reality slips away, and is replaced by something impossibly terrible. Three soldiers tell a couple that their son, Jonathan, has died on military service. They issue precise instructions on the importance of staying hydrated as the parents separately crumble. Dafna (Sarah Adler) is put to bed, sedated, while Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) is unable to process this sudden tragedy; the camera closely, relentlessly, frames Ashkenazi’s almost-motionless face as he burns his skin under a hot tap, scouring his body for the emotions he knows he must feel.
Maoz’s tricksy, ingenious narrative goes on to complicate this episode. But what patterns through ‘Foxtrot’ is this mixture of closely observed trauma and artful image-making. The film’s second part unfolds on a checkpoint in the Israeli desert, a fragile outpost visibly crumbling into the sands that surround it. Maoz’s depiction of Jonathan’s military service is full of biting insight into the danger of giving life-and-death powers to jumpy, vulnerable young men. It’s edged with wit, too; Jonathan leaves his post to dance an impassive but virtuosic foxtrot, his gun his partner.
The film’s third part shifts back to the family’s apartment, where, under pressure from Dafna, Michael niggles away at guilty, covered-up secrets from both his own and Jonathan’s military service. An abstract painting hangs at a slant, in a visual echo of the lopsided, slowly-sinking metal trailer where Jonathan lived. It’s symptomatic of a suppressed wrongness that sets each generation of this family askew.