Two Steps Forward

Foxtrot ((פוֹקְסטְרוֹט) Samuel Maoz, 2017)

This film pissed off the Israeli Minister of Culture because it depicted the Israeli armed forces being less than perfect. There have been any number of incidents over the years which are claimed to be misreported or someone else’s fault. But by the law of averages, all armies screw up. Or act inappropriately.

Jonathan Feldman (Yonathan Shiray) is a nineteen-year-old stationed at Checkpoint Foxtrot on a road to and from somewhere, presumably linking contested territories. Most of the time there is nothing to do but wait, smoke, sketch, dance and watch their shipping container like accommodation sink into the mud.

Two steps forward, two steps to the left…

Occasionally a camel passes.

Occasionally a motorist has to have their papers checked.

This is mostly comic, in that long tradition of the idiocy of military service where the young follow the orders of a largely unseen top brass, but it is they who are slowly rusting away, striding through the puddle rather than walking the long way round. None of the other soldiers even have names, Jonathan is the only one with a back story. The others are future collateral damage or cannon fodder.

This sequence is sandwiched with a narrative set in Tel Aviv, of his parents Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) and Dafna (Sarah Adler) who are informed of his death. Dafna faints and is sedated, Michael seems in shock, demanding to see the body, barely containing his anger.

The camera makes us feel their emotions, tight close ups, overhead shots of a geometric tiled floor, with the barbed wire and needle like art they have collected in the back of many shots.

And in the historical background, of course, the Holocaust and Michael’s own military service, the latter of which he cannot yet bring himself to talk about. I suspect these scenes were actually shot in Germany — the co-production list seems endless — which at least makes some kind of historical progress — as the attempt to defend Israel’s fragile existence continues.

It is the innocent who suffer, of course, but perhaps here no one is entirely innocent. You may laugh, you may cry. You may well shrug and wonder what is to be done.

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