Opinion |

A Beautiful Film About the Occupation

Instead of decrying 'Foxtrot,' Israel’s culture minister and her ilk should distribute it worldwide as part of their PR effort

Gideon Levy
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A scene from Samuel Maoz's "Foxtrot."
A scene from Samuel Maoz's "Foxtrot."Credit: Giora Bejach/Lev Cinema and Spiro Films
Gideon Levy

The film unit of the Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s office would not have dared produce such a pro-Israeli and pro-army film like “Foxtrot;” they would have known that nobody would believe them. Neither could the unit have produced such an aesthetic film — poetic, symbolic and metaphorical. Nor is there a ship of fools that would accept such a demented level of ignorant assaults on the film by the culture minister without having seen it. And even if she had seen it, she might not have realized what a PR treasure it is.

Her colleague, a general in the war against the boycott, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is also information minister, should have instructed his ministry to immediately distribute the film worldwide as part of his battle. There’s nothing like “Foxtrot” for beautifying the image of the state. Look how beautiful we are, we Israelis. What great cinema we have, what beautiful homes we live in and how beautiful are our Holocaust survivors; even our much maligned checkpoints are so beautiful.

Samuel Maoz made a beautiful film – and a deceptive, misleading film. The last thing it deserves is to be decried as harming the state. Its foxtrot is dirty dancing. Maoz says that the film is a metaphor for universal questions about fatalism, choice, fate and the individual’s ability to shape his future. Those are worthy and fascinating subjects. Maoz could have dealt with them by means of a story line about a wrong diagnosis of cancer, a critical date that a couple never went on, or someone who was fatally late for a flight. Instead, he chose to focus the debate in the context of the Israeli occupation. And so he shouldn’t play dumb and claim that this is an artistic and imaginary film, without context or obligation to reality and truth. The moment he chose the occupation as the arena for his film, he turned it into a political and current events film. Not only is that not the way to dance the foxtrot, as Maoz discovered too late, this is not the way the occupation looks – in fact, there’s no resemblance at all.

Beautifying the occupation is no less grave than tarnishing its image. Calling Israeli soldiers Nazis is a terrible thing, but presenting them at checkpoints the way Naomi Shemer described the soldiers in her iconic 1968 song “At the Nahal Outpost,” where she saw “lots of beautiful things,” as well as “small poetry books on shelves” – that was no less grave. A lie is a lie, no matter what direction it takes. There aren’t lots of beautiful things at a checkpoint. Not even one. Maoz decided to embellish it. He has the artistic right to describe reality as he sees it, but he can’t ignore the implications of his hallucinations. When an IDF checkpoint looks like a beautiful surrealistic scene in an old-time Italian movie – maybe they’ll believe it in Venice. Here it’s not possible. There are no beautiful checkpoints like that, with a camel passing silently by and an ice-cream truck with a blond girl painted on it.

Neither can he shirk responsibility for the message or for the fact that the Palestinians are momentary extras, and even in that context, their depiction is so different from the reality. In “Foxtrot,” they ride in a collector’s Chevy, with Israeli license plates, wearing their finery, on the way to a wedding or back from a party, erupting in wild joyful song.

There aren’t a lot of apartments designed like the one where Yonatan’s parents live and there are no soldiers who sit at checkpoints drawing comics in their many hours of free time and checking the incline of the packing container, which is a metaphor for the extent of being stuck in the mud.

The soldiers at the checkpoints simply don’t look like that. They don’t throw sorrowful looks and they’re mainly busy with brutality, not comics. Most of them didn’t grow up in House Beautiful apartments belonging to handsome architects who married their students; the ones that did go to the elite 8200 intelligence unit. They can be shown anyway one wants, but when an Israeli director with political awareness does that, he’s making propaganda, not cinema.

It’s not the “scene” that everyone is talking about that makes this film infuriating. Not the killing by IDF soldiers and not the concealing of evidence that followed. “Foxtrot” is trying to conceal something else entirely: It’s trying to conceal the ugliness.