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Israeli Movie Features Father-Son Rivalry

  • Penelope Poulou

Footnote, a film by Israeli director Joseph Cedar, deals with the rivalry between two Talmudic scholars. One is withdrawn and has spent his whole life analyzing obscure details in the ancient texts. The other is an extrovert. He sees the texts as windows into the periods when they were written. They are father and son and their tenuous relationship threatens to derail when one is awarded the most prestigious national prize.

Minister of Education: “Professor Shkolnik? Congratulations.”
Uriel Shkolnik: "Let me get this straight. You called my father by mistake?”
Academician: “And the minister congratulated him thinking she was talking to you.”

The members of the academy ask Uriel to tell his father about the misunderstanding.

Chairman of the Academy: “You have no right to pass this honor onto your father.”
Uriel: “But he’ll hate me.”

Uriel Shkolnik’s father Eliezer Shkolnik is an uncompromising and awkward scholar long dismissed by his peers. His greatest recognition has been a footnote a famous expert devoted to his work.

Eliezer cannot swallow that his son has achieved the fame he himself sought. So, the father tells himself - and others - that he is the true scholar while his son is a fraud.

Filmmaker Joseph Cedar says Uriel feels he has no choice but to tolerate his father’s rancor. He believes in compromise. At times, the director seems to be addressing a greater Israeli concern.

“Compromise and peace go hand in hand. Peace in this world is the result of compromise. Eliezer on the other hand doesn’t want harmony. He wants truth. When your father is all about truth, then your rebellion is to aspire towards peace. I'll compromise about this, you compromise about that, and we'll live in harmony. You give up some principles for the sake of harmony," Cedar said.

Uriel Shkolnik: “I have no idea who this man is and he is my father."

Footnote deals, most of all, with father-son relationships and the human need for recognition. It also pokes fun at how scholastic debates over minutiae ignite bitter academic wars.

Ultimately Uriel, who always sought the limelight, gives up the prize for his father. Eliezer, on the other hand, chooses to bend the truth to win recognition.

Cedar trains his lens on the actors' body language to enhance the unspoken tensions. The film editing is superb and so is the music.

The film received an Oscar nomination in the foreign language category and has finally arrived in American theaters.

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