Oscar-Nominated Israeli Film Much More than a "Footnote" Review

There is a matter of respect to be paid to Israeli cinema for choosing to make films that frequently veer away from established Jewish stereotypes while assembling complex portraits of people and society. Joseph Cedar’s Footnote is the director’s first film since 2007’s Beaufort, which was the first Israeli film to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar in twenty four eyes. Cedar comes across as an intensely compelling filmmaker, an observant man who chooses not to be labeled as Orthodox, and one capable of telling stories that are hardly myopic but instead psychological and social canvases open to interpretation. With Footnote, Cedar presents an accomplished portrait of a father-son relationship mired in past offenses. He also makes a film ostensibly about two philologists (philology is the study of language in written historical sources, thank you Wikipedia) striving for the highest recognition both tragic and funny.

Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba) is an aged academic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose exacting methods have left him bereft of social norms, a grumpy man addicted to routine. A Talmud scholar, Eliezer’s biggest accomplishment is sadly, a footnote in a massive tome by a man he idolizes. Eliezer could have perhaps been more if not for Professor Yehuda Grossman (Micah Lewensohn), who found and published results that took Eliezer a good thirty years to arrive at, rendering the latter man’s research unnecessary. His life work’s snatched out from under him, the senior Shkolnik cannot take comfort in family either, as his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) is a thorn in his father’s side, but for the obvious reasons. Uriel is a successful and well-liked professor and author, but Eliezer sees his son’s research method’s as merely superficial.

When Eliezer receives a call out of the blue naming him the recipient of the Israel Prize, the state’s highest honor, the man is elated. Meanwhile, Uriel learns of a plot that thickens rapidly while threatening to render void his father’s sudden recognition. Cedar’s thoughtfully constructed script deserves not to be spoiled but suffice it to say the twists raise the emotional immensely. The actors’ work is terrific, a fine mix of pathos and infrequent slapstick that is heightened by Cedar’s use of flashbacks, graphics and above all, sound. The director must want us to inhabit the character’s heads and in the film’s flashiest (and most memorable) scene, a 15-minute virtuoso sequence that puts you directly into Eliezer’s head as you move with his thought step by step, Cedar succeeds tremendously. On the whole, the film manages to work while throttling the viewer between vastly different emotions. Footnote ends on an ambiguous note, and that’s fitting for a picture that refuses to down dumb the contradiction and complexities we embrace in our own flawed character.

The visual portion of the Blu-ray is top notch. Having caught Footnote on the big screen, I can attest that the transfer, which preserves the 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ration, is definitely a faithful reproduction. The home video experience maintains the muted yet vibrant cinematography and clarity that don’t define the film but naturally subtly impact the overall experience. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is presented in Hebrew with English subtitles. Considering how vital the audio mix and that the effects and score (bombastic to a fault) are an integral part of the film, strengthening the memorably odd mix of comedy and operatic drama, the track doesn’t disappoint. All in all, Footnote is not a flashy film but one that deserves and receives a respectfully near-flawless Blu-ray disc.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Is it wrong to wish for a feature-length commentary from Cedar, the director commenting on his stylistic and thematic choices as the film unspools? Alas, the supplements here are rewarding yet standard - a 25-minute BTS that offers the cursory close-up of set ongoings. Also included is a 10-minute portion of a longer Q&A at the Toronto International Film Festival, which does offer some inklings into Cedar’s mind and gives you a minor dose of his personality - the director’s formality is almost academic. Rounding things out is a theatrical trailer for the film and several others.

"Footnote" is on sale July 24, 2012 and is rated PG. Comedy, Drama. Written and directed by Joseph Cedar. Starring Lior Ashkenazi, Micah Lewensohn, Shlomo Bar Aba.

Mark Zhuravsky • Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.


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