Reality check: Foxtrot’ is one of the most authentic Israeli movies

A SCENE from Samuel Maoz’s critically acclaimed ‘Foxtrot.’ (photo credit: GIORA BEJACH)
A SCENE from Samuel Maoz’s critically acclaimed ‘Foxtrot.’
(photo credit: GIORA BEJACH)
Unlike Miri Regev, I have seen the award-winning Israeli film Foxtrot. This, I think you’ll agree, puts me in a slightly better position to critique the film than our culture minister, who rushed to denounce the movie despite not having bothered to watch it herself.
Rather than being an anti-Israel film as Regev would have it, Foxtrot is probably one of the most authentic Israeli films ever made, centering as it does on the potential nightmare facing every Israeli parent who sends their child off on national service, and for whom the doorbell rings with news of their child’s death.
In this, the film is chillingly accurate as it describes the army’s formulaic and regulated procedures for dealing with this most intimate and personal pain, and the destructive effects such deaths have on family life. The opening scenes are harrowing in their intensity and capture the audience’s attention immediately.
Foxtrot also describes with searing honesty the bleakness of many young soldiers’ military service, manning deserted outposts in which boredom and miserable living conditions are the main staples of their existence, only occasionally interspersed with a few minutes of “action” as Palestinian vehicles stop for inspection. And yes, these bored young soldiers do not always behave with the utmost politeness or consideration toward these Palestinians, but such is the nature of occupation, however much those on the Right attempt to deny it.
For good measure, the film also addresses the ever-present impact of the Shoah on modern-day Israel and the battle scars still tormenting the fathers of the current generation of IDF soldiers.
So for sure, Foxtrot is no cinematic equivalent of the Conan O’Brien’s upbeat videos exploring the coolness of Israel as the start-up nation which are currently flooding everyone’s social media feeds, but then real art doesn’t seek to inspire warm, fuzzy feelings.
Unfortunately, real art is not high on the list of our culture minister’s priorities. As far as she’s concerned, Foxtrot is a film that “slanders the name of Israel, its symbols, and its values” and one which “portrays soldiers as murderers and white-washers of the truth.” According to Regev, the only reason Foxtrot has received stellar reviews and the Silver Lion grand jury prize at the Venice Film Festival is because “the international hug comes from self-flagellation and cooperation with the anti-Israeli narrative.”
This is par for the course for Regev, for whom everything with which she disagrees is immediately labeled as anti-patriotic. With a political career that has been built solely on vulgarity (the “cut the bullshit” speech at the Haaretz Culture Conference) and trash-talking her opponents, Regev is perhaps the last person one would rely on for aesthetic judgments (and that’s not based just on the dreadful dress she wore to the Cannes Film Festival). The funny thing, though, is that in her criticism of a film that she hasn’t seen there is a very slight kernel of truth.
Regev’s fierce condemnation of the movie that is Israel’s official candidate for consideration for a Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination centers mainly on one particular scene toward the end. Without going into too many details so as not to spoil Foxtrot for those yet to see it, the scene does present the IDF in a none-too-exemplary light.
If this scene and its aftermath reflected the whole tenor of the film, then Regev would undoubtedly be right in asserting that Foxtrot is a slander against the IDF and, by extension, Israel itself. But this is where condemning a whole film based on an excerpt, taken out of context, shows a serious lack of judgment on the part of the minister and further heightens her unsuitability for the post she holds.
The fact is that the scene that irked Regev’s ire is irrelevant to the wider film and serves more as a heavy-handed, contrived plot mechanism than as any real dramatic weight. So in one respect, Regev is right: if that scene had been cut from the final edit, it would be a better film. She is wrong, however, to judge the film as a slander against Israel based on her slight knowledge of its plot.
The importance of films like Foxtrot (which, at the end of the day, I felt was overlong and at times over-indulgent) is that they ask important questions of the society in which we live and challenge the myths which underpin it. In Israel, we’re fortunate to have artists with the courage and talent to raise such issues despite the attempts of a cynical, intellectually insecure political establishment to silence voices that they are unable to engage with honestly.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.