Foreign-Language Oscar Contender 'Foxtrot' Sparks Heated Debate in Israel

Samuel Maoz's meditation on grief was condemned by government officials who didn't even see it.

Ever since Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot started receiving praise following festival screenings at Venice and Toronto — winning the grand jury prize at the former — Israel's Minister of Culture & Sport Miri Regev has been denouncing Maoz and his film. Regev has called Foxtrot a disgrace, declaring that "it stands to destroy the greatest celebration of the 20th century that is the state of Israel" and that its message "plays to the hands of our haters, on the backs of Israeli soldiers."

The only catch? Regev hasn't actually seen Foxtrot. True, the film treads into controversial territory: Maoz's drama chronicles the grief of a soldier's parents (Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler) as they learn their son has died while serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Flashbacks reveal what actually happened to the young soldier, who was stationed at a deserted checkpoint, eventually leading to a particularly gut-wrenching scene involving a group of young Palestinians attempting to cross the checkpoint.

"I was surprised to see how before the film was released the minister began to press those buttons and actually confirm the film's statement," says Maoz. "And she does it with slogans that bring pathos to its peak: 'Foxtrot is destroying the country.' As if the film is a nuclear weapon that will erase us from the map. This is the culture minister's version of the existential danger."

Maoz says the idea for his script originated in the trauma he felt one day when his girlfriend's teenage daughter went missing following a terrorist attack. She eventually turned up safe, but the feeling of panic and helplessness that Maoz experienced became the basis for Foxtrot.

"Fate, from my point of view, is the central theme. It is … the spine of the film," he says. "The film is, first of all, a philosophical puzzle that tries to crack this vague concept of what we call 'fate.' "

Though he made the film for personal reasons, Maoz says the controversy stirred up by Regev has made Foxtrot less about his own experiences and more about the experience of living in contemporary Israel. "Her attack once again posed a mirror to the radical split in our society," he says of Regev. "Her fans defame the film without seeing it, and her opponents fill the movie theaters and support the film. The struggle is no longer only about the film itself. It's a struggle for freedom of speech and expression and the purity of art."

Sony Pictures Classics will release Foxtrot in an Oscar-qualifying run on Dec. 8 in L.A. and New York, followed by a wider release March 2.

This story first appeared in a November standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.