In Joseph Cedar’s most recent film Footnote, a father and son struggle with their relationship as they both compete for recognition in the same narrow field. But the real trouble starts when the father, Eliezer Shkolnik who is played by Shlomo Bar Aba is called by mistake and awarded the Israel Prize in place of his son. Footnote won several awards in 2011, including the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival and nine Ophir Awards. It was also nominated for an Academy Award in 2012.
Footnote creates a quick connection between the audience and the characters right off the bat. Cedar, with the help of Yaron Scharf, carves out a very intimate view of each character with long unbroken scenes and shots that focus on the hard features of the father, the shaky constitution of the son, and the exhaustive sadness of the mother. Scharf does a great job of making the audience feel like part of character’s lives, like a child watching and waiting for a busy parent’s attention. Combined with this intimacy, Cedar’s writing and directing only pull the audience deeper in.
Yaron Scharf’s cinematography serves as a strong connection between the characters’ lives and their intimate relationship to the audience. While the camera focused on one of the main characters, someone speaks offstage, creating a sense of a narration that serves to show us more about how others see the main characters and also how the main characters responds to these thoughts. There are also several defining moments for the father and son, which are interwoven through the film with quirky, sketch-like flashbacks and a lighthearted homage to the Microfilm.
This film also looks at issues that plague every family, but in a very unique setting. It is this reliability and close look at the family dynamic that showcase the real strength of Footnote. Shlomo Bar Aba and Lior Ashkenazi do an excellent job of conveying this strange relationship of loyalty and resentment between the father and son. Bar-Aba’s performance as the father tugs at heart strings instantly and he expresses the emotions of his character through several subtle facial expressions. His silence is almost frustrating, especially when it is to the detriment of his relationships with his wife, son, and colleagues. But this silence makes the scenes where he speaks all the more powerful and really shows how vulnerable and shunned the character of Eliezer Shkolmik is.
Lior Ashkenazi also has a wonderful performance in this film as Bar-Aba’s son Uriel. His character is the exact opposite of the father, with a charismatic personality, popularity and a bit of an ego. While Bar-Aba’s character is very quiet, Ashkenazi’s character is loud and outspoken in what he believes. Ashkenazi opens up the film with a story from his childhood, creating a vivid but skewed interpretation of the relationship between the father and soon. This contrasts almost immediately with the audience as the camera focuses on Bar-Aba’s pained and uncomfortable face as Ashkenazi speaks. Ashkenazi also singlehandedly creates the suspense in this film, raising the tension in a scene with sometimes just a look. There are several powerful scenes in particular that dive deep into the relationship between the father and son which are driven almost entirely by Ashkenazi and his actions. Bar-Aba and Ashkenazi both give the audience a very unique and personal insight into the inner workings of the lives of accomplished scholars, a world where so much hard work is recognized only by a small amount of vicious and competitive people.
Overall, Footnote is a very earnest movie with lots of clever details and though provoking scenes. Cedar and Scharf work very well together to really insert the audience into the lives of the characters in a way that makes the character’s decisions feel like the decision of the audience. The characters are all portrayed by excellent actors, who pull in the audience with real life concerns and relationships, even if they are part of an exclusive group of geniuses and scholars. The true meaning and merit of this film is brought out by the characters who then create a world in which it is possible to feel both accepted like Uriel and shunned like Eliezer at the same time. The intimacy that Cedar and Scharf craft in this film is made even more inspiring and devastating as the audience understands the feelings that have haunted this family for so long. Footnote has just the right amount of family drama, bitter rivalry, and private moments to satiate the foreign film movie buff.
Opens October 21 at Cornell Cinema.
Written and Directed by Joseph Cedar; Produced by David Mandil; Director of Photography, Yaron Scharf; Edited by Einat Glaser-Zarhin; Costume Design by Laura Sheim; distributed by Sony Pictures Classic. Running time: 1 hour and 47 minutes.
WITH: Shlomo Bar-Aba (Eliezer Shkolnik), Lior Ashkenazi (Uriel), Aliza Rosen (Yehudit), Alma Zack (Dikla Shkolnik), and Micah Lewensohn (Grossman).
This article was written by Samantha Perry. Email her at sperry4[at]ithaca.edu