Footnote (2011)

THE SCOOP
Director: Joseph Cedar
Cast: Shlomo Bar-AbaLior Ashkenazi, Aliza Rosen
Plot: Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik are father and son as well as rival professors in Talmudic Studies. When both men learn that Eliezer will be lauded for his work, their complicated relationship reaches a new peak.

Genre: Drama
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Feature. Won Best Screenplay and nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes). 
Runtime: 103min
Rating: PG for thematic elements, brief nudity, language and smoking.

TRAILER: 

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IN RETROSPECT

Never follow in the footsteps of your father, the film seems to say. Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), who is a professor in Talmudic Studies, becomes rivals with his father, Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba), who also does research in that field. Both father and son have a complicated relationship characterized by jealously and respect.

It is this tension between father and son, not as a result of domestic issues, but a professional one, that makes Footnote an intriguing piece of work by writer-director Joseph Cedar, who made the outstanding war drama Beaufort (2007) that was nominated for an Oscar.

Footnote, also nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Feature, but more significantly, clinched the Best Screenplay award at Cannes, is a deftly-written work that combines mainstream elements with more arthouse expectations. Still, Cedar's film will elude the average moviegoer with its jargonistic look at the academic field, and the director's penchant for the uncomfortable extreme close-up, and the long take.

The film starts with the latter that sees both father and son seated together in an auditorium. The son gets up to deliver a speech, leaving the father alone in his thoughts as the camera slowly pans and zooms toward him. All that without any cuts. The entire prologue delicately balances the relational distance between the two characters. The son talks, the father is silent; the son is in the limelight, the father is shunned.

Or perhaps snubbed is the better word... of the annual Israel Prize, the state’s highest honour, despite doing brilliant scholarly research in his field for more than three decades. A strong critic of the Israel Prize in recent years, Eliezer is suddenly informed that he is one of the recipients of the award this year.

Cedar pushes things further into the seeming abyss when a key plot point is revealed about a third into the film, sparking some excellent dialogue and character development, and of course, a dilemma no son would ever want to face.  

It must be said that Footnote only starts to captivate after the plot takes shape following the revelation. What transpires in the first act can be routine, or at times dull, and this is despite Cedar showing flashes of visual creativity on screen, matched to a curiously amusing score.

The main issue I have with Footnote is its inconsistent tone. It adopts a far too playful tone that is sometimes ill-suited to what it is thematically trying to portray – a serious look at a father-son relationship that oscillates between reconciliation and retribution. And it does that throughout the film, even when the drama gets serious.

Footnote is a half-decent film from an American-born filmmaker who moved to Jerusalem early in his life. While I don’t think this is a particularly excellent work, do expect some great things from Cedar in the near future.

Verdict: The father-son relationship is put to an intriguing test in this deftly-written film that somewhat suffers from an inconsistent tone.

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)






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