Footnote (Joseph Cedar, 2011): Israel

Reviewed by Pamela Carvalho. Viewed at AFI Fest 2011

Footnote is a movie about a intense rivalry between a father and a son: Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik, both professors in the Talmudic studies at the hebrew University in Jerusalem. It begins with the worst day in the farmer’s life, when he has to attend a ceremony welcoming his son into the Academy, an honour he himself never received. Things improve for Eliezer when he hears that he is finally going to be given, after decades of disappointed waiting, the prestigious Israel prize. It may, as a chapter heading tell us, be the best day of his life, but it’s also the start of a series of events that are not only morally complicated but, perhaps, infinitely sad.

The film is almost a novelistic in terms of the detail and subtlely with which Cedar draws both the many differences and similarities between father and son, not to mention the arcane workings of and divisions within Israel’s academic establishment. At the same time, however he adopts a vividly imaginative cinematic style.

The film title, also, refers not only to a small but crucial detail in the storyline but also to a way in which we might regard the modest but conscientious elder professor and to on aspect of the films own narrative structure.

Clearly, this is a film that has been meticulously thought through on every level. So even though many found it’s orchestral score overly insistent and loud, its tone is entirely appropriate to this study of seemingly small-scale familial and academic conflict which nevertheless takes on, for all involved, the dimensions of an epic struggle between the old and the new, truth and falsehood, right and wrong.

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