An intriguing father-son rivalryComment on this story
DIRECTOR: Joseph Cedar
CAST: Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Aliza Rosen, Micah Lewensohn, Alma Zack
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
Footnote is a finely drawn portrait of the complicated relationship between a father and son.
The Oscar-nominated drama plays out in the rarified atmosphere of contemporary Talmudic studies at a university. So forget images of men in blacks suits and plaits down the sides of their heads. Instead it’s stacks of books in gated libraries, tiny offices filled with filing cabinets and fights about tenure and seniority.
We see middle class urban life in Israel, the nice houses and the regular family social life, but it’s all over-shadowed by the most extraordinary security presence in the background.
Father and son, professors Elizier (Bar-Aba) and Uriel (Ashkenazi) Shkolnik are both well-considered in their field.
They are quite different characters though.
Elizier is a man of habit, who has spent his life on painstaking research, while Uriel is more flamboyant and sociable.
Where Uriel seems to relish attention, Elizier shuns it.
When Elizier is finally awarded the Israel Prize, something he has coveted, he has to completely shift his whole way of thinking. Up to now he had always decried the awards system for pandering to public opinion, because he was being ignored, but this honour changes everything.
This is when Elizier’s, very much hidden up to this point, need for attention comes to the fore.
This is pitted against Uriel’s suspicion that his father has always resented him for stepping into the same field of study – the son thinks the father thinks he is deliberately trying to steal his father’s thunder.
Add to that Uriel’s not-so-simple relationship with his own son Josh (Daniel Markovich) and you have a family drama of inter-generational stuff-ups of note.
Ashkenazi is almost unrecognisable behind a bushy beard, a much more lively and fatter character than his Eyat character from Walk on Water.
Bar-Aba’s craggy face and the way he puts his head down when he walks down the road reinforce the image of a taciturn old man, cantankerous and just a bit over-reactive to what he perceives as slights.
Similarities between father and son are presented subtly, such as in how they both retreat to their book-lined studies when at odds with the world.
How ironic, too, then when Uriel has to make a decision that could affect his father in a deep and meaningful way. Uriel is happy his father is finally being lauded, but who is this person whom he doesn’t even recognise anymore?
The film ultimately has nothing to do with Talmudic studies and everything to do with family and the emotions that drive us, like rage, jealousy and guilt.
Loyalty and honesty also come into it, where you didn’t think to go looking for it – giving the film an unexpectedly poignant edge.
If you liked … Winter Passing … you will like this.