Interview with film director Samuel Maoz

Israeli "Foxtrot" pulls no punches

Award-winning filmmaker Samuel Maoz shares the personal story behind his latest film, Foxtrot, and why his allegory of Israeli society has made him an enemy to many in his home country. Interview by Sarah Judith Hofmann

Your film "Foxtrot" starts with a situation that is probably the most terrifying moment for every parent in the world: the message that their child is dead. Why is this still a very specific Israeli story that you tell?

Samuel Maoz: When your son serves in the Israeli army and there is a knock on the door, you open the door and see an officer, a female soldier and a doctor; they don't have to say anything. It is quite clear what has happened and this is the most terrifying moment that every Israeli parent is afraid of. Every woman and every man here has to serve in the army.

Have you experienced such a moment in your family?

Maoz: There is a personal aspect to it, but it's different. When my eldest daughter was going to school, she was never on time. And in order to not be too late, she would always ask me for a taxi. This habit started to cost us quite a lot of money and I felt it to be bad practice, so one morning I got really mad and told her to take the bus like every one else. If she was late, then so be it.

About 20 minutes after she left, I heard on the radio that a terrorist had blown himself up in bus number five — the one that she had to take — and that dozens of people were killed.

I tried to call her school, but the communication centre had collapsed. After an hour she showed up at home. She had been late for the bus, but only by a few seconds. She saw it in the station, started to run and waved her arms, but the bus left the station and she took the next one.

You know, I was a soldier in the first Lebanon war, I fought in bloody battles, but this one hour was the worst hour of my life.

In Foxtrot I wanted to explore the gap between things that we can control and those that are out of our control. This was my first stimulation, the core of the feeling of the film. But there was another motivation ….

Which one?

Maoz: I have to go back to my first feature film, "Lebanon". It's my personal story, my war experience, from my physical point of view as a gunner in a tank, but also from my emotional point of view as a 20-year-old child who had never been involved in any act of violence, then one morning found himself deep in hell, in bloody battles killing people.

I knew there was no way out, I had to kill, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here now.

But the fact that I did it made me feel guilty – still today. I never got psychological treatment, but I know that I was suffering from a small, silent post-trauma.

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