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Friday, 13 April 2012 00:00

Father-Son Ethical Dilemmas Generated by 'Footnote'

Father-Son Ethical Dilemmas Generated by 'Footnote' csmonitor.com
Written by Diane Carson
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Father-son conflict has offered archetypal fodder for stories the world over for centuries. Now in Footnote Israeli writer/director Joseph Cedar tracks one such father-son rivalry in the lives of two Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Brilliantly, he mines layer upon layer of psychological drama, tracking a complex web of moral interrogation embedded in dynamite dialogue exchanges.

Both Talmudic researchers, father Eliezer Shkolnik and son Uriel have a long-standing rivalry intensified by the announcement of the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize. In an understandable but tragic mistake, the wrong man receives the congratulatory phone call. Simultaneously, Uriel's own teenage son causes problems adding another level of complex interactions in this engrossing film.

Pinpointing conflicting emotions in an ethical interrogation that's an intellectual high-wire act, Footnote balances volatile shifts between envy and pride, resentment and delight. The wives contribute significantly, though minimally, to the dynamic tension. The title comes from the fact that the father's only noteworthy recognition for his decades of meticulous research as a philologist is a footnote acknowledgement in a rival's book. Bravely, Shlomo Bar Aba does not make the acerbic father at all soft and sympathetic. He performs the truth of this bitter, resentful man.

Beautifully composed and edited, Footnote moves quickly without hurrying, seriously but with humor, especially a claustrophobic committee meeting. American-born, now Israeli based Cedar lingers on reaction shots, often watching revelations dawn on characters whose suppressed but deep emotion conveys a complex response. He shoots the tradition-bound father in warm light but claustrophobic close-ups. The son enjoys looser framing until the crisis restricts him to tighter, closer shots as well. As described in April's American Cinematographer article, later in the film, "as the father-son conflict deepens, the colors become more and more saturated." Cedar even riffs into a Felliniesque detour, an unexpected but psychologically-motivated, appropriate expressionistic touch.

Footnote won the screenwriting prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination, and nine awards from the Israeli Film Academy, including best film and best director. In Hebrew with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.

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