Footnote (Day 36)
My Opinion: 5.9 || It could have been so much better. There are interesting ideas and a couple great scenes, but the director makes a string of bad decisions that undercut the film’s potential. The ending is a particular disappointment and seems to be a case of the movie running out of ideas.
TITLE: Footnote (Hearat Shulayim)
DIRECTOR: Joseph Cedar
LANGUAGE: Hebrew | COUNTRY: Israel
PROFILE: Drama | 103 minutes | IMDb (6.9)
SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik are father and son as well as rival professors in Talmudic Studies. When both men learn that Eliezer will be lauded for his work, their complicated relationship reaches a new peak.
Strengths: The movie presents Talmud scholarship as a blood sport and delivers a well-structured ethical and emotional conflict. The middle portion of the film is engrossing, as we watch our protagonist Uriel wrestle with his complex dilemma. Cedar ties him in a tight knot of loyalty, principle, deception, and sacrifice – it’s literate and well-conceived.
Weaknesses: First, Cedar overdoes the pivotal character: Uriel’s father Eliezer is presented from the first scene to the last as emotionally inert and appallingly ungracious. It’s difficult to feel sympathy for someone so cold and self-absorbed. (It doesn’t help that his wife, Uriel’s mother, is an equally dreary figure.) Elizer may be realistic — such people exist, no doubt — but he’s too drab, tedious, and underexplored to serve as the focal point of the film.
The score is also a problem: Its jauntiness is often a poor match for what we’re seeing on screen, and it’s far too loud and intrusive. And then there’s the semi-farcical turn part-way into the film where Uriel has to walk campus in a towel (and then fencing garb) because his clothes have been stolen. It doesn’t work as comedy or drama, and Cedar ties it to an apparent plot development that he then abandons. It’s odd, as if some crucial piece was lost in editing. Finally, the ending is strangely flat and abrupt — again as if something is missing.
Characters/Performances: See above about the Eliezer and his wife. What a dull and unappealing pair. Uriel, on the other hand, is a compelling character, as are some of the other academics who play secondary roles. Unfortunately, Cedar forces in some drama concerning Uriel’s son that doesn’t get developed enough — another instance of either poor narrative design or flawed editing.
Best Moment: There’s a scene inside an amusingly cramped office in which Uriel and his fellow academics debate the proper reaction to a terrible mistake. It’s very well written and acted, with shifting dynamics and beautifully articulated dilemmas. If only the rest of the movie were as good.
File Under: academia, loyalty, fathers and sons, research, office politics