Film Review: FOXTROT (Israel/France/Germany/Switzerland 2017) ****

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Foxtrot Poster
Trailer

 

FOXTROT as most people know is the name of a dance, which is performed a third through the film by a bored soldier at his deserted outpost.  It is also known in the military to stand for the letter ‘F’ when spelt out as taught in signalling courses to prevent confusion in communication.  (Alpha is for ‘A’, Bravo for ‘B’ etc.)  In the film it is also the name given to a military operation.

The film is divided into 3 parts, each almost equal in running time.  The opening sequence is reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN when a mother faints after hearing the news of her son’s death during WWII.  The story begins at the home of Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafna (Sarah Adler), where an army detail arrives with the news of their son Jonathan ((Yonatan Shiray).  Dafna faints and is sedated.  Meanwhile Michael spirals from anguish to anger.  He even kicks his poor unsuspecting dog.  Nothing new here, the film seems treading on water.  The film picks up when he begins to suspect that he has not been told the whole story when the army refuse to let him see the son’s body in the coffin during the military funeral.  Not soon after, there is news that the boy is alive.  Apparently, there is another Jonathan Feldman and it is this other Jonathan that died.  Michael freaks out and demands that his son be returned home right away.  Michael and Dafna have an argument, she accusing him of being nasty, he of her being too nice being sedated on drugs.

The film ends on a bright note, with a touch of surrealism.  The second section begins with the narrator describing the foxtrot dance followed by a very uplifting and amusing dance sequence.  The musical interlude jumps out of the blue and is a fantastic surprise.  The audience then learns of Jonathan’s mundane military duties at the check post, identifying everyone that drives through.  The soldiers also let a camel through.  Writer/director Maoz pulls another trick up his sleeve with a twist in the plot.  When  a passenger in a car tosses out an empty drink can, the soldiers open fire thinking it to be a grenade.  There are been more twists in the plot but they will not be mentioned in the review to prevent to many spoilers.   A few of these twists could be reduced for the film to be more effective.

The film works as a very different film audiences have never seen before.  FOXTROT is a  surrealistic film set in the midst of the israeli/Palestinian conflict, a very unlikely setting, which makes the surrealism work even better.  Maoz’s story also shows that fate plays games with people’s lives – and there is nothing one can do about it.  Michael and Dafna try to make sense of what is happening.  At their best moment, as their daughter, Alma tells them: “You two look beautiful when you are together.”  Perhaps, that is the only thing human beings can hang on to, each other in the midst of the quirky hands of fate.

The film won the Silver Lion (Grand Jury Prize) at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.  FOXTROT is definitely worth a look.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrBEDEmUceM

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Film Review: NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER (USA/Israel 2016)

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norman.jpgDirector: Joseph Cedar
Writer: Joseph Cedar
Stars: Richard Gere, Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen

Review by Gilbert Seah

Not to be confused with the other film NORMAN made in 2010, this new NORMAN comes with a long subtext in the title that essentially tells everyone what the film is about.
Written and directed by Joseph Cedar, NORMAN (film’s original title was OPPENHEIMER STRATEGIES) tells the moderate rise and tragic fall of the said man. The film is well shot and directed as a combination of set pieces are performed almost meticulously by veteran actor Richard Gere. At the age of 67, Gere could be almost be doing old fart movies like GOING IN STYLE. (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin share the average age of 80), Here in NORMAN, Gere is in top form, articulating his character who still has the ability to charm and ‘cheat’ investors of their hard earned savings.

Cedar’s film begins with two dramatic set pieces that show Norman hard at work. In the first, he is unsuccessful while he succeeds in the second. In the first segment, he stalks a high-profile businessman interrupting his private life, while he is jogging in the morning to pitch his deal. In the second, he successfully courts a young politician, Nicha Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) after paying for his shoes at a shoe store. (French actor Isaac Bankole is immediately recognizable as the shoe salesman who flatters Eshel.) Three years pass and Eshel becomes Prime Minister of Israel. Eshel’s name is used to no end by Norman in all his present and future schemes.

At the film’s start in one of Eshel’s speech, he says: “I do not look at the way things are and ask: Why? I look at the way things should be and ask, why not?” The same idea can be used to critique NORMAN. The film is fine but the question that should be asked is what the film should have been with the question why not.

For one, nothing is mentioned of Norman’s background. Norman is shown the way he is – no girlfriend, minimal family and a loner at heart and in life. It is hard to identify with a person like Norman and especially as he is a trickster at heart. Norman has few redeeming qualities. There is no suspense in the way he could have got caught which could have added some needed suspense into an otherwise monotonous film.

Gere is good and the film contains an impressive cast of actors that include French Bankole and Charlotte Gainsbourg and others like Hank Azaria (always appearing in con films), Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens and Steve Buschemi. One could say that Gere is too good looking an actor to play a shady character like Norman. But one could argue too that as Gere said, when he was here for the film at TIFF that it shows that there is a Norman in each one of us.

The film is shot partly in Hebrew and English in New York City where the story is set. NORMAN is not bad but could be better. And why not?

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXFCrl37HzU
 

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