An Academy Award nominated drama from Israel, infused with moments of humour and a the most terrifying force of them all: academics!
Israeli cinema has come to increasing international prominence in the last few years, with documentary Waltz with Bashir (2008) allowing animation to tell some of the more troubling tales of the 1982 Lebanon War, and the similarly themed Lebanon (2009) exploring the lives of a handful of soldiers within that war. With Footnote, the cinema of Israel gets incredibly bold by exploring the wrangling of a handful of elite Israeli scholars and the behind the scenes forces that put them, and keep them away, from that illustrious position.
Philologist Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar’Aba) is a largely unrecognised scholar in the field of Tulmudic research, frustrated that his life has been meaningless due to rival scholar Prof. Yehuda Grossman (Micah Lewensohn) publishing similar results ahead of him. Eliezer’s only claim to fame is a single footnote in a seminal text. His son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), also a researcher in a similar field, is the polar opposite to his father, with his work recognised by the academic community and the public alike. Yet when a clerical error sees Eliezer awarded the prestigious Israel Prize instead of his son, Uriel’s efforts to help his father retain the prize don’t quite go where he expects.
Nominated for an Academy Award, Footnote is a surprisingly funny and dramatic depiction of the lives of academics. The discussions of scholars, depending on their field of researcher, can be coma inducing but there is a surprising amount of politics involved in academia. This is especially true of those fields of research necessarily tied to multi-million dollar grants, or in this case national identity. Footnote adds the further dramatic tension of the father-son relationship, which really would have been more than enough to carry this intriguing narrative through to its conclusion. Yet neither of these two sides of the coin are fully fleshed out, and while neither exploit the obvious opportunities to wallow in overly dramatic melodrama, perhaps they should have just a little.
The central performances are both excellent, with Bar’Aba going from downtrodden to puffed up and arrogant within a few key scenes. Similarly, Israeli Film Academy winner (for Walk on Water) Ashkenazi lends weight to the investigative role of the son, whose internal struggles largely fill up the spaces in between. Mostly engaging, writer/director Joseph Cedar’s 2011 Cannes Film Festival winning screenplay flattens out a bit towards the end, but must still be commended for opening the door for this kind of exploration in Israeli cinema.
Footnote is released in Australia on 19 April 2012 from Rialto Distribution.