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War of the Scholars: Footnote gives new meaning to ‘like father like son’ 

Shlomo Bar-Abba stars in recent film Footnote.

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Director Joseph Cedar offers a dazzlingly fresh take on filmmaking with Footnote, a whirlwind of dynamics surrounding mind games, intellectual suffering and guilt.

This flick is a mind-bending chess game between two rival scholars who just happen to be father (Shlomo Bar-Abba) and son (Lior Ashkenazi). But don’t let that fool you. These two are scholars who read about reading, write about writing and live and breathe investigation into both. The scholars are focused on the Talmud transcripts, the central texts of mainstream Judaism that document discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history.

The gist of the plot is that Eliezer, the dad, has been passed over for the Israeli prize—considered to be the state’s highest honor—for over twenty years and finally gets the call he’s been waiting for his entire life. The problem is the call was intended for his son, Uriel, creating a terrible dilemma for everyone. Pride, integrity and legacy are at stake along with some very decisive and deceiving pratfalls. It’s never what you think.

The film starts with an ingenious close-up of Eliezer listening to his son deliver an acceptance speech with only a backhanded recognition of his father’s influence. With Eliezer showing no emotion except for a smidgeon of blithe indifference, we get the set-up for the turning twists of events to come.

Dad is in a perpetual state of stewing in his own juices while the son is a little more carefree and modern, but it’s a shared resentment. The values of disdain, tradition and reverence are the hallmarks of generational dysfunction that will be handed down like a family heirloom.

With serious and comic overtones, Footnote at times displays a Coen brothers feel, specifically their own meditation on Judaism, A Serious Man.

Ashkenazi, who plays the son, captures his side of the dilemma perfectly. His subtle acting is interrupted by bursts of manic rage while Bar-Abba, the father, does all his acting from the inside out. Seething turmoil from within, he’s a no-win kind of guy in a no-win situation.

Both scholars’ main objective is to make the other one suffer and then gloat. Sometimes this is delivered by doing the right thing and saying the wrong thing and at others times vice versa.

Whether it’s stubbornness, pride or tradition under the microscope, it’s still all about the power of words. Curiously clever and insightful, this flick will have you thinking and debating for days after you see it.

Footnote

3 Stars

Starring Shlomo Bar-Abba, Lior Ashkenazi, Alisa Rosen, Alma Zak and
Daniel Markovich

Directed by Joseph Cedar

Rated PG-13

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