* * * 1/2
Zero Motivation, from 2014, was a light, frothy comedy about the boredom facing young Jewish Israeli women during their two years of military service. Now Foxtrot, a true satire rather than a comedy, examines issues around young men doing their service, but the humor is much, much darker.
Tonally, Foxtrot is extremely ambitious. Using a simple set of characters and locations but laser-sharp mise-en-scene, director Samuel Maoz takes tight control of our minds and emotions, leading us purposefully to look where he wants us to look and feel what he wants us to feel. It’s a magic act, a set of deceptions, manipulations and reveals, and it works.
It could easily not have; the twists and reversals in Maoz’s screenplay are bold enough to alienate or even anger. But his cast and crew are all on the same page, in on the same joke, and the strange engine hums. In particular, cinematographer Giora Bejach uses precise, formal framing and audacious – but always controlled – camera moves to play with our brains. He’ll show us one thing, then, with a subtle push in and pan, reveal something new that totally upends our expectations, and he does it again and again, the magician daring us to figure out his next move when he’s actually two moves ahead.
Likewise, the cast, headed by the suburb Lior Ashkenazi, nail every quiet, meaningful beat, dancing between comedy and tragedy eloquently and at times virtuosically. There are simple shots of Ashkenazi in silent repose that are some of the most heart-rending and memorable images of the cinematic year thus far. Indeed, even as the story – which is undeniably manipulative – fades in your memory, Ashkenazi’s performance, and his silent visage, will grow.