Imagine getting a phone-call from the government saying they’d finally decided to honour your research after ignoring you for 40 years. But what if your son, of the same name, was the intended recipient of the “Israel prize” and you only got the news because of a clerical error? The authorities come clean to the son but tell him he’s the one who has to break the news to his father. Dilemma.
This is the basic premise for Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, an Israeli drama that attempts to mix dark comic elements with heavy family themes. The film was nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, losing out to Iran’s A Separation.
Shlomo Bar-Aba plays Professor Eliezer Shkolnik, a man who dedicated 30 years of research to compiling translations of the Hebrew text the Talmud, only to be usurped months before publishing by a rival professor who uncovered a new unified text which rendered Elizer’s life work close to pointless. He continues to do research well into his old age, fading into obscurity while his son, Professor Uriel Shkolnik, receives countless plaudits for his own work with the Talmud.
The trailer would almost make you think this was a bit of a farcical caper, but from the opening minutes the resentment between father and son is very apparent and reveals a much more serious piece of work.
Shkolnik senior displays all the hallmarks of an autistic tortured soul. He is emotionally closed off to everyone including his wife, and his only true peace comes when he is working in his study with his chunky yellow headphones muffling out the distractions of the world around him. Contrast this to his son Uriel who, having received countless accolades, is the man everyone wants to talk to at parties and who retains a strong emotional connection with his wife. The only blot on his life is a strained relationship with his own son Josh – a nice parallel with the central dynamic being explored in the film.
It is thrilling watching a son given so much power over a father who is oblivious to what is happening. Uriel knows that he can’t possibly take away the honour from his father and so will have to force the board to overlook their prejudices toward him and leave things as they are. Naturally enough as things begin to unravel, it becomes a race against time to make sure Eliezer remains unsuspecting of the central lie that has been constructed.
Aside from a little bit of a drop in action in the middle of the film, Footnote is quite a delight from start to finish. It manages to leaves the audience with a frustrating (in a good way) open ending and asks the viewer serious questions about how to deal with familial conundrums. Will the truth hurt more than the lie?
Israel / Directed By: Joseph Cedar / Written By: Joseph Cedar / Starring: Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Aliza Rosen / 103min / Drama / Release: 8 March 2012 (U.S.), 23 March 2012 (Canada)