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“Foxtrot” Shines a Light on PTSD

Israel's submission to the 90th annual Academy Awards is truly daring and unforgettable.

Michael Feldmann (Lior Ashkenazi) with his wife Dafna (Sarah Adler), their last name 'felled man' as in dead man, is a pun, a play on words. (Sony Picture Classics)

Newcomer actor Itay Exlroad does a sensuous Foxtrot with his automatic rifle to pass the time at a remote border checkpoint where he and his squad, including the son of the main characters, are stationed.

                A staple of ‘first’ dances at formal celebrations, “Foxtrot” borrows its name from simple ballroom moves in which partners draw the shape of a box winding up in the same place where they began.

Written and directed by Samuel Moaz, starring Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, and Yonatan Shiray, “Foxtrot” is Israel’s brave and provocative official submission to the 90th annual Academy Awards now in limited release at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre and in wider release in Manhattan starting February 2, 2018.

A classic dance routine, the box step, aka Foxtrot, appears several times in this fine film about a nation under the constant threat of war. Not only is it a meditation on the importance of acknowledging and working through the after effects of small and large traumatic events in life, it also speaks to the issue of the futility of war. PTSD in the military has become a public health epidemic. Why individuals are susceptible to triggering of past trauma – or prone to trauma in the present – may trace back to unresolved earlier incidences. Precipitating events are revealed in the soldier/son’s graphic novel. Even the beaten yet loyal and loving family dog bears the burden of his master’s predictably unpredictable emotional outbursts.

Without giving away too many of the film’s plot twists, the Foxtrot shows up at the matriarch’s nursing home and in the Feldman’s living room as the couple clings to one another trying to make sense of their shattered lives in the movie’s final scenes. The film provides relief through comedic moments, such as random visitations by the surreal lone camel in the desert. Games the soldiers play to humor themselves and their tinkering with radios to pipe in soothing music counterbalances the botched horrors of the excruciating military protocols to verify who can cross the border. The care the mother takes to decorate a birthday cake with pomegranate seeds, a mystical symbol of fertility, that their son will never eat feels therapeutic as it is tragic.

Returning to the ‘scene of the crime’ addresses history that continues to haunt and crops up try as our protaganists might to suppress it. Until satisfactory meaning is made of tumultuous experience, buried trauma once triggered wrecks havoc in the lives of individuals and their loved ones. Problems do not die easily even when root causes are properly addressed. Aggression is a dangerous form of kicking the proverbial can down the road and is no solution in the short, mid or long terms, only worsening symptoms and problems needing solutions today.

This point is driven home when the untreated PTSD of the father is enlivened by the inaccurate news that his son is killed in the line of duty, a revelation which ultimately contributes to the son’s senseless death. About half-way through this week’s episode of NPR’s “FilmWeek” hosted by Larry Mantle, nationally acclaimed critics Claudia Puig and Peter Rainer raise a number of incisive points about “Foxtrot.”

A justifiable darling of film critics and festival circuits in Telluride, Toronto and AFI, “Foxtrot,” was the winner of the prestigious Grand Jury Prize, the Silver Lion in the 2017 Venice Film Festival, and 8 Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Lead Actor for Mr. Ashkenazi.

                                           Walk, walk, side together; Slow, slow, quick, quick.

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