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Israeli film 'Foxtrot' draws admiration at Venice Film Festival

Director Samuel Maoz, center, and actors Lior Ashkenazi, left, and Sarah Adler pose during the photo call for the film "Foxtrot" at the 74th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.
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Director's sole other film won the top prize at the prestigious festival

Eight years after his debut film won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, Israeli director Samuel Maoz is back in competition with an allegorical tale of grief.

"Foxtrot" received high praise from the two main US entertainment newspapers, with Variety calling it "award-winning film-making on a fearless level" and the Hollywood Reporter saying it was "bold modernist cinema at its most harrowing".

The film is a three-act tale hinging on the death of an Israeli soldier, and Maoz, whose sole previous film was the war drama "Lebanon", told the Associated Press (AP) that he expects it to cause controversy back home over the depiction of the military.

"I could create a (story of) horrible crime in the Israeli police and nobody would say (anything),” Maoz told AP. “But if you touch the army, this is very, very sensitive."

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev has already criticized the fact that the film received public funding under the previous culture minister -- although Regev said she had yet to see the film. 

"It is a disgrace that the film 'Foxtrot' by Shmulik Maoz has been chosen to be screened at prestigious film festivals like Toronto and Venice," the Jerusalem Post quoted Regev as saying. "It is inconceivable that movies that shame the reputation of the IDF are those that are supported by the Israel Film Fund, which is supported by the state. And those are the films that are selected to showcase Israeli cinema abroad."

Maoz told the news agency that in the film, "“the hero creates his own punishment and fights against anyone who tries to save him. And he is unaware of the outcome that his actions will bring about."

He said it was inspired by a real-life incident.

"When my eldest daughter went to school, she never woke up on time, and in order not to be late she would ask me to call for a taxi," the director told AP. “This habit cost us quite a bit of money, and seemed to me like a bad education, so one morning I got mad and told her to take the bus like everyone else.

"Around 20 minutes, half an hour after she left, I heard on the radio that a terrorist blew himself up" on her bus line, killing dozens. He said "there was one horrible hour" when he did not know what happened to his daughter.

"After one hour, she returned home," he said. "She was late for the bus that exploded — she saw it leave the station and took the next bus."

That day planted a seed that eventually found fruition in "Foxtrot", which critics say could be a front-runner for this year's Golden Lion.  

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