July 4, 2011
A Drama about Father and Son and Academe: “Footnote”
There’s a scene in Joseph Cedar’s new film, Footnote, that may bring a smile to Americans of a certain bent. At a ceremonial event for Israeli academics there’s an emotional discussion in the lobby about Daniel Boyarin, the Berkeley-based scholar, and his ideas about gender in Jewish history. The reference may be a bit dated, since the film is set in 2010 and the book they’re discussing, Unheroic Conduct, was published in 1997. But the scene captures both the passion and insularity of academic disagreements, which is one of the subjects of the film.
In this new work by the director of Beaufort, a father and son are professors of Talmud at the Hebrew University with different methods and very different careers. The father is a master of the details of philology while the son is a widely known lecturer who writes books with popular themes, and these differences are reflected in their personalities. The younger man, played by the now-veteran Israeli actor Lior Ashkenazi, is a sought-after public speaker and internationally recognized for his work. The elder professor has no talent for social interaction, is most at home in his subterranean office, and has become embittered because his son receives the kind of recognition he believes he deserves himself. Here’s one trailer:
A clerical error with enormous consequences sets in motion a series of events that bring old resentments to the surface, not only between father and son but between each of them and the academic establishment. That premise might have devolved into a melodrama with simple heroes and villains. (The potted summaries of Cedar’s movie describe it as if it were.) The film makes no such facile judgments, and instead shows what can happen when flawed people each hold to their firm beliefs in what is right. This story’s power comes from its ambiguities and its recognition that good intentions do not guarantee good consequences.
This trailer looks at the film from the father’s point of view:
Shlomo Bar-Aba, playing a man of few words, forcefully shows the father’s inner disappointments and frustration through his posture and facial expressions. Ashkenazi convincingly depicts his character’s unexpected complexity. The Shostakovich-like score by Amit Poznansky captures the sometimes sardonic, sometimes comic, and mostly sober character of the story. Cedar’s script won this year’s Screenplay Award at Cannes.
Footnote has not yet been released in the United States. Be on the lookout for it.
Bob Goldfarb, the president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity in Los Angeles and Jerusalem, also blogs regularly for eJewishPhilanthropy.com.