By Dirk Sonniksen | April 14, 2012
Director: Joseph Cedar
Writer: Joseph Cedar
Starring: Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Alma Zack, Aliza Rosen, Yuval Scharf
Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is the father. Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) is the son. Both are highly regarded professors in the field of Talmudic studies. We begin with Eliezer, a disgruntled participant in an auspicious award ceremony celebrating his son Uriel’s accomplishments in the study of the Talmud. To put it simply: Eliezer is damn jealous of his son’s success. Stranger still, Eliezer appears to have been the man pushing his son toward the proverbial family business. Life becomes more complicated when a mistake regarding the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize results in said prize being awarded to the wrong Shkolnik. Drama and a bit of light comedy ensue, with the Shkolnik family thrown into a tizzy, and a passive-aggressive father-son relationship becomes even more . . . passive-aggressive.
Joseph Cedar was the perfect guy to write and direct Footnote; he excelled at inventing this microcosm of academia and family life, based largely on the idea of a mixup, from Eliezer’s initial academic discovery as well as the award debacle, the mistakes made by Eliezer and Uriel in how they approach their relationship, and the mistakes made in the marriages of the two, both by the husbands and the wives. Footnote is a film of glaring and subtle push and pull between members of the Shkolnik family, with the overall plot at times taking a backseat to the drama between these rather..mixed up individuals.
Although there is a comedic layer that lies just under the dramatic moments in Footnote, there is also a near-constant feeling that something has gone wrong—a tension that made it tough for me to watch at times. A feeling of claustrophobia also permeates Footnote, most notably a brilliantly shot scene of a cramped room chosen for the meeting between Uriel and the Israel Prize committee. The continuous use of military checkpoints (which I’m assuming are common in Israel) at the entrance to every building the characters enter, adds further to this feeling of confinement — an inability to move freely.
Actors Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi are superb as two men torn between salvaging a relationship as father and son or pushing themselves further apart for the sake of their careers. Bar-Aba is the favorite for me – an actor whose most convincing moments require him to be as minimalist as possible. Alma Zack and Aliza Rosen are equally convincing as women that seem to exist on the fringes of the lives of their husbands, but at the same time, two women with possible solutions to this family ordeal that they simply refuse to share, either out of simple gender issues or a kind of cultural norm.
Footnote was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards and took home the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011. It’s one of those films that’s brilliant in a lot of ways, from its trance-like classical score, great screenplay, a talented cast, and first-rate cinematography. It’s everything one would want, but I came away from Footnote without a true hero. Just when I felt a connection with any of the characters, they would morph into individuals I despised. I’m not certain that’s what the director had in mind when writing and directing this film, but for me, it made Footnote all the more memorable.