Monday, August 06, 2012

"Footnote": witty Israeli film about academia pitted against family

Some of us are familiar with the “publish or perish” mentality of the academic world. But I was surprised how the problem can be whipped up into an ethnic family drama that weighs the values of individual truth, fame, recognition, all against family solidarity across generations.  Such is the accomplishment of the 2011 Israeli film “Footnote” (“Hearat Shulayim”), directed by Joseph Cedar.  The ideas can take on existential importance that could almost apply in my own life.

A grandfatherly rabbinical philology professor Elizeer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) has never earned the Israel Prize for his work, partly because of an archeological discovery by another professor that had made his work (about detailed aspects of late Old Testament Jewish diaspora and captivity – itself an important historical topic) redundant; all of the public recognition of his work had been relegated to a “footnoate”.

But his son Uriel  (Lior Ashkenazi, gray-bearded and not visibly a while lot younger) had repeatedly submitted his dad for the prize. The son, however, is an established professor in the same area himself (the film plays on the terms “teacher”, “professor”, “lecturer”, “research scholar”, etc). A committee mistakenly informs the elder grandfather that he has won the prize, when it is really the son – setting off a double-edged crisis.

The film has interesting story-telling techniques, with an early section called “things to know” about each character, humorously animated.  It finds all kinds of ways to score visual points, even with little details about the security procedures for the final wards ceremony (the end is ambiguous). 

The lively, steady-paced orchestral score by Amit Poznansky is quite witty (and a bit Ravel-like), and sets up the mood of the film.

The story concept could invite comparison with other films, ranging from Irving Wallace’s “The Prize” to the recent gay drama about a somewhat filmmaker’s prize, “Judas Kiss”.

The film was nominated for best foreign language film (Hebrew) in 2011, and was a hit at Cannes.

Sony’s official site is here

The film can be rented for $3.99 on YouTube. 

Picture: Note the films for Cleveland’s “Cinema in the Square” for 2012.

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