"Footnote": Passionate about the Talmud

Shlomo Bar-Aba plays the disappointed, embittered Talmudic scholar in "Footnote," a losing - but deserving - Oscar nominee. for best foreign-language film. REN MENDELSON?/?Sony Pictures Classics
Shlomo Bar-Aba plays the disappointed, embittered Talmudic scholar in "Footnote," a losing - but deserving - Oscar nominee. for best foreign-language film. REN MENDELSON?/?Sony Pictures Classics
Posted: March 30, 2012

I don't want to cause any trouble here, but the wrong movie took home the Academy Award for best foreign-language film last month. As fine and complex as A Separation is, the Iranian Oscar winner doesn't achieve anywhere near the levels of psychological depth and emotional punch of its fellow nominee, Footnote. From Israel, this remarkable work, written and directed by Joseph Cedar, chronicles the epic rivalry between a father and son, both Talmudic scholars, and the twisted knots of ego, anger, loyalty, and loathing that bind them together, and tear them apart.

If you doubt that a film set in the world of religious scholarship can pack such a wallop - it's suspenseful, funny, crushing, heartbreaking - doubt not. Moving at a breakneck, action-style pace, Footnote lulls us into laughter at the same time it deconstructs the brutal relationship between a self-obsessed intellectual and his considerably more socially adept and grounded son. Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is a sour, eccentric professor who has devoted his life to a singularly focused study of the Talmudic texts. His work may be brilliant, but it has failed to gain the recognition he feels he deserves.

And then, unexpectedly, Eliezer, filled with bitterness toward the academic establishment, is informed by that very same establishment that he's been chosen to receive the prize. His son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), is proud for his father - finally, some props for the old man (although this isn't exactly how he phrases the sentiment). Eliezer's long-suffering wife, Yehudit (Aliza Rosen), shares in her husband's elation - an elation that forces him to question his contempt for the people who dole out the honors, who have shunned him so long. A newspaper reporter comes to interview him. He is invited to be on television. Everything is a whirl.

What happens to Eliezer next is devastating, and forces Uriel to make hard moral decisions that will impact his life, his father's. Footnote is a film about the nature of truth, about sacrifice, hubris, hypocrisy. It's nothing short of brilliant.

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|