Directed by: Joseph Cedar
Cast: Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi and Aliza Rosen
Lately, I’ve been watching a considerable amount of self- consciously quirky cinema that for the most part has been quite good, such as Submarine and Chicken with Plums. Using unusual music and playful photography, Director Joseph Cedar is attempting to explore important themes such as that of a father- son relationship and the jealousies that often come into play when each figure seeks to carve out his own way in life. Oftentimes, it’s for prestige, or something as simple as a happy family. In Footnote, it’s the latter. Eliezer Shkolnik is the quiet, reserved father who seems to have a lot of hang-ups towards the present day scholarly work of Talmudic Studies in his community–which consists of maybe five people, at the most. His son, Uriel, is in the same field of study. Eliezer wants recognition and to be remembered, something Uriel has already received in such a short period of time. Because of a serious mistake concerning the prestigious Israel Prize, this turns into a bitter rivalry that threatens to destroy the little relationship they had to begin with.
Eliezer has gone through most of his life without recognition. It is revealed that his entire life–some 25 years or more–has been dedicated to some research that was ultimately pointless, due to another scholar’s archaeological discovery. To this day, his only moment of pride was when an award-winning scholar and teacher, who supposedly never mentioned anyone by name in his books, named Eliezer in the footnote. It’s rather sad. His resentment has a ripple effect on the story, which helps both push the film forward and bring in some added drama. Because of Eliezer’s attitude, Uriel lashes out at his son, who seems to be a little confused about his purpose in life. Uriel is a son who is filled with conflicted feelings towards his father. In what can be described as a son’s adoration towards his father–you might even call it an idealization–is revealed to be something closer to a fear of rejection. Uriel is full of pride, even the way he plays racquetball is both pompous and full of showmanship, but it is exactly what it seems to be: an act. Hurt by his father’s actions, he lashes out at everyone around him in anger and with pent up frustration.
One of the first things that struck me in Footnote was the style and tone. We open with a medium-shot of Eliezer, who sits in deep thought during a ceremony for his son, Uriel, who is giving an acceptance speech. What’s most striking about this shot– besides the remarkable acting that is done by Shlomo Bar-Aba–is the settled camera style. It is surely something that should be noteworthy, given the sudden shift later in the quirkier stylistic choices. This drastic change seems to undercut the serious tone of the film, which makes me curious as to why this felt necessary. Was it to enhance the melodramatic feeling, like a Wes Anderson film, or something a little more obtuse? Nevertheless, what’s also wonderful about this scene is how he chooses to ignore Uriel entirely. Eliezer’s son is in the midst of giving a rather heartfelt anecdotal speech that is littered with humor about his aspirations as a child to become a teacher. This story is fairly telling of his relationship with his father, despite his intentions to paint him in a positive light. Even though Eliezer is not prone to expressing himself, his face tells us all that we need to know.
Simple, straightforward and ultimately a little too unsurprising, the story itself moves briskly along at a reasonable pace. There are a variety of terrifically symbolic scenes throughout the entire film. Some are painful to watch, while others are a little more playful. But ultimately it’s a little difficult to get a grasp on what exactly Cedar’s feelings on the issue, whether its melodramatic, or deadly serious–he seems to feel that it can be both. That’s the biggest issue with Footnote, while everything else is incredibly well- done. It may seem like a small gripe, but it was a nagging problem that seem to show up every now and then when the Cedar felt the film was becoming too self-serious. A director should never be afraid to be too serious, or too silly, and sticking around in the middle is not the ideal place to be. The ending is also a little problematic for me, where it feels a little done-to-death. It doesn’t give us any resolve, but it is ponderous and will likely lead to a few discussions. What I find to be the saddest part of the whole affair is if only Eliezer had realized that a life can not be summed up with awards and footnotes, he could’ve been much happier.