Two serious men – Footnote review

FootnoteStarring Shlomo Bar-Aba and Lior Ashkenazi. Directed by Joseph Cedar. Rated PG. By Simon Miraudo.

Footnote plays the Perth International Arts Festival from March 12 – 25. Click here for more detailsIt arrives in cinemas nationally April 5, 2012.

Joseph Cedar’s Footnote is easily one of the most exciting and creatively executed films about Jewish academics poring over the Torah ever made, excluding perhaps Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man (which really does exist in a world of its own, anyway).

Shlomo Bar-Aba stars as Professor Eliezer Shkolnik, a perpetually frowning lecturer who spent thirty years analysing the kerning in the Israeli holy books, only to have his life’s work proven irrelevant by his scholarly nemesis. Seething with bitterness, the seemingly autistic Eliezer spent the next few decades cursing the cliquey intellectual community that has shunned him, whilst still craving their unattainable approval. His son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) has fared much better, becoming one of the most esteemed thinkers in the nation. This, as you might imagine, has not endeared him to his father.

But Shkolnik Sr.’s luck is set to change, and he is informed that he is finally the recipient of the long-coveted Israel Prize. At least, that’s what the misinformed Minister’s Assistant told him. In actuality, the award – and the phone call – was meant to go to Shkolnik Jr. The selection jury appeal to Uriel, begging him to inform his dad of the mix-up, and accept the accolade himself. If their relationship is frayed now, he can only imagine how it’ll be when he revokes his pa’s prized possession. Uriel rejects their offer and takes solace in the fact he is being the bigger man. But when Eliezer comes out of his shell – ever so slightly – and takes the opportunity to tell his peers, and his son, what he really thinks of their work, Uriel reconsiders.

Cedar’s picture opens with a bombastic overture, ends in a somber, dialogue-free sequence, and is decorated with colourful chapter names, frenetic sub-titles, and playful transitions. At its core is an extended argument – between Uriel and the voting committee – that takes place in a room so cramped everyone in it needs to stand whenever the door opens. These are ambitious stylistic choices; you would think Cedar was dressing up an empty screenplay with shallow flourishes. That is not the case. His script is comic, deeply sad, and an astute spoofery of stuffy academia. At its core is a tragic tale of father-son discord (echoed in Uriel’s relationship with his own son), performed expertly by the leads. A fitting nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Oscars.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Footnote plays the Perth International Arts Festival from March 12 – 25. Click here for more details. It arrives in cinemas nationally March 8, 2012.

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