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Footnote

    Reviewed by Andreas Wong on April 9th, 2012
    Rialto
presents a film directed by Joseph Cedar
    Screenplay by Joseph Cedar
    Starring:
Shlomo Ba'raba and Lior Ashkenazi
    Running Time:
107 mins
    Rating: PG
    Released: April 19th, 2012


8/10

 

 

Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik are locked in an unlikely father-son relationship. They are both leading professors within the rigorous and rarefied field of Talmudic Studies: an obscure discipline dedicated to the application of objective analysis to ancient Jewish texts in furtherance of our understanding of such topics as the texts’ historical backgrounds, reflections of daily reality, linguistic characteristics and literary sources. Eliezer (Shlomo Bar’Aba) is a bitter old-school purist who has spent his career parsing texts with a research-intensive analytic approach. His life’s greatest achievement amounts to a single footnote buried between the pages of an influential tome in which his legendary mentor and the book’s author briefly acknowledges his contributing research. His son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), by way of contrast, is a popular and accomplished scholar who delivers lectures in academic institutions across the country. Every waking moment Eliezer must suffer the ultimate humiliation of living in his son’s shadow. One fateful day, the Minister of Education phones Eliezer to inform him that he is going to be awarded the coveted Israel Prize – a personal holy grail that has eluded his grasp for nearly two decades. A newspaper confirms it. Shortly afterwards, the Israel Prize committee phones Uriel to arrange an emergency meeting. It informs Uriel that he is the true recipient of the prize and that his father was mistakenly awarded the prize due to a freak mix-up over their identities. The sorry debacle forces Uriel into the dilemma of either letting his father live an illusion and permanently forfeiting his future claims to the award or allowing the Board to restore their actual judgment at the cost of his father’s heartbreak.


Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote” is a tragicomic triumph with a daring plotline that succeeds in the end because of its surprising offbeat humour and unswerving confidence in its esoteric material. The concept of the “footnote”, as suggested by the title, functions as a perfect metaphor for the film’s story and Eliezer’s character, as it is used to denote an anecdote that is of minor importance yet is too good to be omitted. Cedar’s anecdote opens up an absurd world of niche humour that mines its comedy from the most unexpected places. Don’t be at all surprised if you find yourself laughing uncontrollably at its classy collection of visual gags that image such situations as a secret meeting held in a confined space and attended by self-important luminaries, Uriel serving a rocket ace in blind fury during a friendly squash game and Eliezer engaging in a childish argument with a guard over his security clearance. Cedar transforms the Israeli Talmud establishment into a comic and dramatic site of struggle where rival professors wage epic unspoken wars, highly intelligent scholars behave like little children and careers are made or stayed over the tiniest of details. However, beneath all the wry humour, the story allegorises the troubling universal relationships between fathers and sons. The film’s comedy is thus offset by the genuine pathos that its familial portrayals arouse. Eliezer and Uriel, in spite of their respective foibles, both represent hapless victims of tragic circumstances operating outside their control.  Bar’Aba’s performance is outstanding in conveying this sympathetic image. The film’s sporadic graphic narration is tawdry, however, the film’s overwhelming strengths mitigate this defect completely. I strongly recommend this one.






 
 



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