Anthem first sat down with decorated Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz back in 2010 to discuss his narrative feature debut Lebanon, a searing rumination on his scorched memories of the Lebanon War. The film follows a group of emotionally crumbly soldiers as they rumble across merciless terrain inside a claustrophobic tank with only its crosshairs to guide their journey. At 20, Maoz was a gunner in one of the first Israeli tanks to enter Lebanon in 1982. It took him nearly 25 years to even start writing Lebanon. “I just needed to find some understanding of what I went through first,” he had told us. “After one or two pages of writing the screenplay, I could start smelling the burning flesh again.” After being passed on by both Berlin and Cannes, Lebanon world premiered at the 66th Venice International Film Festival, where it picked up the Golden Lion for Best Film.
Maoz’s Foxtrot—only his second narrative feature—is equally anguishing. Structured like a three-act tragedy, the film begins with a fatal ring at the front door: an army detail has come to inform the Feldmans that their son has fallen in the line of duty. Mother Dafna (Sarah Adler) faints and father Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) is paralyzed with disbelief. Act two disorientatingly shifts focus to their Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray), a border patrol manning a remote roadblock on Israel’s northern border. In one surreal sequence—currently used in its entirety as the film’s initial trailer—sees another soldier dancing the foxtrot, a rifle as his partner, being dwarfed by a paintbox backdrop. This ushers in a playful look at the inanity of everyday military life before tragedy strikes. In the final chapter, we rejoin Dafna and Michael in their apartment, to whom fate has dealt another blow.
A few years ago, Maoz had a scare to end all scares. Maoz’s teenage daughter was prone to waking up late and relying on parental largesse to get to school, so he decided to teach her a gentle lesson one morning and send her on a city bus. Shortly after she left the house, Maoz heard that a bus had exploded in a terrorist attack and many of its passengers were dead. It turns out Maoz’s daughter had missed the bus by mere seconds and was still alive. This is how Foxtrot came into existence.
In September, Foxtrot swept the Ophirs, the Israeli equivalent to the Oscars, winning eight prizes including Best Picture. Returning to Venice this year, the film picked up the Silver Lion. Not to be outdone, the National Board of Review recently named Foxtrot the Best Foreign Film of 2017.
[Editor's Note: At the request of Foxtrot's U.S. distributor, our in-depth conversation with Maoz at this year's Macao will go live in March 2018—to coincide with the film's Stateside release date.]
The 2nd Annual Macao International Film Festival & Awards runs December 8-14.