A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME: Coco, Foxtrot


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Warning: SPOILERS
In writer/director Samuel Maoz’s often deeply affecting film Foxtrot, one can say that the title is truth in advertising. Like the basic steps of that dance, the movie is structured in four movements, with a fifth one returning to the beginning as the movements begin to repeat themselves.
The basic story revolves around an Israeli family who receives news that their soldier son died at a roadblock he was stationed at. The grief here is palpable and broad. And then they discover that there is more to come.
The first step is the viewpoint of someone driving a truck; the second the revelation of the son’s death; the third, a dramatization of the son’s life at his outpost; the fourth, another scene with the family; and then back to the truck that began the dance in the first place.

 

I can’t really fault the movie. It’s extremely well made. And it’s heartfelt and sincere and the hand of the writer/director can be seen throughout as each segment is approached in a different style.

 

But perhaps that is the issue that prevented me from enjoying the film as much as others did. The director’s hand can be seen, but it’s almost as if it has a stranglehold on everything to such a degree that it won’t let the movie breathe. Every emotion is painted in overly broad strokes and not in a realistic fashion, but in a taught, carefully controlled style that calls such attention to itself it’s not always as easy to be as empathetically involved as I might want to be.

 

And I’m not quite sure whether the message of the film is supposed to be political or existential.  There is some suggestion that it’s the bloody conflict that everyone, including Moaz, holds responsible for what happens.

 

But in the film, the conflict is really incidental in the broad scheme of things here. What happens to the son and how it happens is pure bad luck. And there is no system or political set up that can cure the world of bad luck.

 

With Lior Ashkenazi as the father; Sara Adler as the mother; and Yonathan Shiray as the son.

 

The Israeli entry for the Foreign Language Film category of the Oscars.

 

 

I know I’m supposed to love the new animated feature Coco, about a young boy forbidden by his family to become a musician who ends up in the Land of the Dead during the celebration of Dia de los Meurtos. It’s heartwarming and colorful and fun and imaginative and all the other points of the Disney/Pixar law.

 

And, like Foxtrot, I can’t really fault the film since it is, indeed, heartwarming and colorful and imaginative, etc.

 

It certainly is beautifully made, perhaps the most gorgeous animated film I’ve ever seen with colorful backgrounds of houses seemingly stacked on top of each other, and minute details, such as fingers strumming a guitar, rendered in almost impossibly realistic detail.

 

But sad to say, the story didn’t quite grab me. My instinctual response, though people might consider me crazy in a grinchly sort of way, is that the pacing was a bit slow for me or that, until the end, it all felt a tad familiar and there were few surprises along the way.

 

The story picks up once the intrepid hero, Miguel, manages to sneak into the afterlife. This section is kind of fun and clever with its bureaucracy and outdated technology (dead in the real world like everything else here).

 

But the ending, with its surprise twist, is probably best not thought about too closely because, at first glance, it renders the backstory unbelievable, or prevents it from making any real sense at all. And the idea that an artist has to choose between pursuing his art or giving it up for his family seems a strange moral for a film made by artists.

 

I suppose in the end I just didn’t find myself getting as emotionally involved as I would have liked.

 

Though it seems clear from the critical and audience reaction that I am the one who is definitely in the wrong.

 

With adorable Anthony González as the adorable hero Miguel; Gael Garcia Bernal giving one of his delightfully loopy performances as Hector; and Benjamin Bratt proving there is life after Law&Order, as Ernesto de la Cruz.

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