Garnering nearly universal acclaim and major award noms from the Academy, Independent Spirit, and Cannes last year, American born and Jerusalem raised director Joseph Cedar’s Footnote is worthy of props for its amusingly clever script, but the film as a whole is decidely lacking. A story of a rivaling father and son, both notable Talmudic Studies professors of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the film explores the absurdity of pride and the tension of unresolved faith in family, but within this tonally unstable charade, there is little to its characters to sink our teeth into, leaving a comedic conundrum of a story with a fleeting sense of tenor. Despite this, Cedar’s film is an amusing lark that weaves within the inane realm of academic accolades and out through the misgivings of intellectual remittance.
Year after year, Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) has been passed over for the prestigious Israel Prize, as his life’s work in Talmudic research was made futile when a colleague found a lost manuscript that pre-dated the documents Eliezer was working with. His career of meaningless research and repeated rejection have left him a spiteful man, preferring to wallow in solitudinous contempt over having meaningful relationships with anyone. Filling the shoes Eliezer believes to be his, his son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) is decided upon to receive the prize, but in the process of his notification, a clerical error is made, and Eliezer is told he will finally be the recipient of the award. Knowing that the truth will crush his father, Uriel is forced to either confess that he is the true prize winner or convince the board to allow Eliezer to actually receive the award.
The basic plot itself sounds as though it could be quite humorous, and at times it is, but the problem is in the shifting tone in which the story unfolds. It plays out in a heighten reality that very mildly emulates the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but Cedar doesn’t allow the playfulness of this style to flourish, instead constricting it, playing more to the drama, and making his fairly flat characters even more rigid. When stylized delineative sequences are inserted, you can feel the tonal shift, making the film somewhat disjointed. Part of the blame for this should also be placed on Einat Glaser-Zarhin, the film’s editor, and Amit Poznansky, its composer. Often times when the film starts to tease at the kooky nature of its leads Poznansky allows his beautifully lavish score to build to the point of comical ridiculousness, but the visual cuts lend themselves instead to melodrama, creating a massive tonal incongruity. While this fault is incredibly distracting, the story itself remains curious enough to hold the film together.
The Sony released Blu-ray of Footnote is a mostly elegant disc. It’s HD presentation is one of extreme clarity, with colors looking natural, even in dimly lit scenes. Evidence can be found any time Uriel and his bearded face are on screen. Despite its very strong visuals, the disc’s highlight is Amit Poznansky’s lively score being pushed through the DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track. While voice and general ambiance reproduction have no issue, the music sounds phenomenal, especially cranked up a notch louder than usual viewing. The disc itself comes safely bound in a standard Blu-ray case.
Behind the Scenes of Joseph Cedar’s Film: Footnote
This unfortunately window-boxed, 24 minute featurette contains plenty of behind the scenes footage, as well as interviews with the director and his two lead actors as they reflect on their roles within the film and their thoughts on several specific scenes. There is also a brief look at the recording of the film’s score, which apparently was the most advanced to ever be produced in Israel.
An Evening With Joseph Cedar
At only 10 minutes, this is an abbreviated post-screening Q&A with the director, in which he answers questions about the story’s origin, the clashing of the story’s tone and the unabashedly bombastic score, the religious symbolics within the film, his casting decisions, and others.
Implying that the film rests firmly within a somewhat zany comic universe, the trailer makes use of the feature’s occasional stylistically heightened moments. It is though, quite economical in condensing the film’s embroiled storyline with a little help from supplemental plot cards.
Smartly written, but awkwardly constructed, Cedar’s latest feature is a tone deaf dramedy that delves into the dynamics between an ungrateful father and his overshadowingly successful son. Watching the disconnected dynamics between the two professors is effortlessly enjoyable, but when Cedar tries to force the light melodrama into an altered comedic state with Poznansky’s wonderful, but misused score and randomly injected stylization, Footnote begins to flounder.
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