Published Sep 06, 2011For most people, no matter how extravagantly we screw up, our families usually have our backs. And if that's not the case, even a well meaning, "I told you so" can be comforting. In Joseph Cedar's Footnote, a father and son, both Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, are bitter rivals, and a relationship held sacred in most cultures reaches a frenzied, yet intensely entertaining, breaking point.
When we first meet Eliezer Scholnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba), he sits, head bowed and glowering, as his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) is inducted into the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities. The elder Scholnik has been a devout scholar of the central Judaic text — the Talmud — for over 30 years, but while his accolades are few (his life's prize is a footnote dedication in a revered academic's publication), his son's career has flourished. While Uriel has come to accept his father's resentment, their relationship, which is already on tenterhooks, is painfully tested when the winners of the respected Israeli Prize are announced.
When, after 16 years of applying as a candidate, Eliezer is told he's finally won, he has a new lease on life. As Uriel's wife describes, "[He's like] an anorexic girl who's suddenly begun to eat." But when it's revealed that even the academy makes administrative mistakes, the lengths a father and son must go to in the name of recognition and truth will imperil all that remains of their relationship.
Footnote, which won Best Screenplay at Cannes this past May, and is based on stories Cedar heard from his scientist father who teaches at the university, is the Israeli director's first feature-length film since the Oscar-nominated Beaufort (2007). And like earlier films Campfire (2004) and Time of Favor (2000), provides a deft commentary on Israeli family life and Jewish culture.
It is organized into somewhat comical chapters, like "A Few Things Worth Knowing About Eliezer Scholnik," providing character sketches of both father and son that, though much darker, are reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie (2001). Meanwhile, Amit Poznansky's flamboyant score, arguably fitting of a Home Alone instalment, dutifully injects Footnote with additional whimsy.
But despite Cedar's attempts to cool his subject matter, the relationship between Uriel and Eliezer is endlessly complicated, and thus compelling. The story of the Scholniks' need for respect and admiration within academia, and its toxicity within their family, is artfully told by Cedar, whose ability to pen a story about Talmudic scholars with unabashed comedy, as well as unflinching respect, will prove worthy of much more than an addendum this festival season. (Mongrel Media)