‘Footnote,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


I don’t think there was a movie at last fall’s Toronto Film Festival (or New York after that) that thrilled me in the same way that “Footnote” did.

Joseph Cedar’s film, about a family of academics, creates a tension that squeezes laughs out of the audience. It’s the kind of family dynamic that Ingmar Bergman would appreciate – or Woody Allen.

In this Israeli film, an Oscar-nominee for foreign film this year, Cedar has created a story about a man whose quest for a kind of personal academic truth finally brings him a long-denied honor. But his restless, relentless need to examine the facts of seemingly every molecule of his life ultimately bring him to something else.

As played by Shlomo Bar-Aba, Prof. Eliezer Shkolnik is a scholar with a routine, spending hours in the university library stacks and his book-lined office at home, ignoring his family and the rest of the world. He’s got his noise-cancelling headphones on and he’s studying the same thing he’s studied for his entire career: an obscure, long-thought lost version of a section of the Talmud.

His laser-like focus on his work almost gives him an aspect that says “Asperger syndrome.” You can see his social unease in the beginning of the film, when he seems to be the only unhappy person at a ceremony at the university honoring his son. Both father and son are philologists – but father is the strict academic, looking for the definitive understanding of text, while his son, Prof. Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) is more populist, looking to interpret rather than confirm or cement anything.

As a result, Uriel is a best-selling author, the recipient of numerous awards – while Eliezer is still a curmudgeonly loner, grumbling to himself about honors denied because of long-held academic grudges, or denigrating the awards he’s been denied as having declined in importance because of the people to whom they’ve been awarded.

Then, finally, the universe clicks into place, if only for a second: Eliezer receives a phone call congratulating him on being selected as one of the recipients of the Israel Prize, one of the country’s highest honors. Vindication is his at last.

But Uriel is summoned to the university where the award is given and quietly told the truth: A secretary called the wrong number – in fact, the award was meant for the son, not the father. Now what?

This review continues on my website.

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