Joseph Cedar, the American-born, Israeli director of the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort” was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his “Footnote” screenplay. The film, about competitive father/son Talmudic scholars, premiered last May at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the best screenplay prize. In February, it will compete against some of Oscar season’s best bets, including Michel Hazanavicius’s “The Artist” and Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” at the Spirit Awards.
I have not yet seen the film but L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan gave it early praise, calling it “exceptional” in an interview with Cedar from Cannes last May:
Cedar, 42, is Sabbath-observant, so this is the first opportunity anyone will have to talk with him about his work, and I am braving the chaos and staying up late because “Footnote” is the film I’ve enjoyed most at the festival so far. It’s a serious farce with significant issues on its mind, a film that invites both laughter and reflection as it seamlessly changes tones from comic to dramatic.
It is somehow appropriate that Cedar’s Sabbath observance played a part in the interview situation, because “Footnote” is about a pair of competitive scholars of the Talmud, the central document of the Jewish religious tradition, rival academics who just happen to be a misanthropic father (Shlomo Bar Aba) and his gregarious son (Lior Ashkenazi).
“When you see a Chinese film, you often feel it is rooted in some kind of ancient Chinese tradition,” Cedar says. “The Talmud is our primary text, our tradition. It’s something I want to deal with if I am making movies in Israel.”
Cedar, a thoughtful man with an innate sense of modesty, is more than making movies in Israel. Starting with “Time of Favor” in 2001, he is making them as well or better than anyone else in the country. His most recent effort, “Beaufort,” not only earned him the Silver Bear for best director from the Berlin Film Festival, but it was also the first Israeli film in 24 years to be nominated for a best foreign-language film Oscar. “Israel is saturated with drama,” he says of his country’s remarkable film renaissance, “so it’s natural that it’s reflected in our cinema.”