‘Footnote’ Movie Review
In a perfect world, parents would never, could never be jealous of their children. Their offspring’s accomplishments would inspire pride rather than envy, encouragement rather than scorn. But Joseph Cedar’s film, Footnote, isn’t set in a perfect world, and the conflict he sets up between a father and his son is every bit as heartbreaking as it is ridiculously funny.
Eliezer Shkolnik and his son, Uriel, are both Talmudic scholars in Israel, but while Uriel is popular, published and acclaimed, Eliezer is old-fashioned, uncompromising and overlooked. He might also be autistic, which would go a long way to forgiving how he treats his far more successful son. Embittered by being robbed of an important discovery and being passed over for the highest honor in his country twenty years in a row, Eliezer clings to one past glory, literally a footnote in his life, and resents everything about his son’s work to the point where one can’t help but assume that he actually hates his own child.
Fortunately, the story is so much more complicated than that. Hate is black and white, but the relationship between Eliezer and Uriel was already gray when a terrible mistake happens that forces Uriel to choose between his father and his career.
It’s clear why Footnote was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the most recent Academy Awards ceremony. Not only does it tell a powerful story about love and sacrifice, it does so in a funny, highly entertaining way. Most Americans expect foreign films to be simple and dreary and incomprehensible. Footnote might drag a little at the end, but for the most part it’s wittily-penned and cleverly-edited.
Actually, everything fell into place for me except for two things. The first was a subplot about Eliezer’s possible extramarital relationship that went absolutely nowhere. The second was the ending itself. I wanted to see a confrontation between these two characters, a father and son showdown that would either resolve their problems or make it clear that there will never be a resolution. We’re not given that, though. We’re left to wonder if this was one relationship that simply can’t ever be fixed. Can a father and a son who have become rivals ever be just a father and a son again?
While I enjoyed the movie as a whole, one of the things that impressed me the most was how it could revolve entirely around something about which I know virtually nothing…the study of the Talmud…yet I never felt as if I didn’t know what was going on. Watching the movie was like stepping into another world for a few hours, and I’m not simply talking about modern day Israel which, apparently, is under constant armed guard, but a secret world of old grudges and academic rivalries, a world that’s hidden in a maze of ancient textbooks and only recorded on microfilm.
Footnote opens in New York on March 9th and Los Angeles on March 16th.