Film more than a 'Footnote'
Words like "philologist" will come up in "Footnote," a thoughtful, emotionally complex father-son film with a comedic fuddy-duddy side that will inspire a few giggles. But mostly, fathers and sons likely will be dragged, kicking and screaming, to think about their own relationships with each other.
"Footnote," an Israeli film in Hebrew with English subtitles, is set in the world of academia, where a word like philologist is likely to come up.
Professor Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) has achieved much in his career. He has written books and won awards, something, unfortunately, his father, Talmud researcher Professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba), has not been able to achieve.
Eliezer's only professional recognition - the one he has hanged his hat on for 30 years - is that his painstaking research is mentioned in a footnote in a respected scholar's book. And his classes aren't well attended, either. In fact, he refused to cancel one of his classes even though only one student signed up.
Uriel, on the other hand, is a popular professor who fits like a glove in the highbrow academic world his father can't seem to be invited to - a world he doesn't respect because no one, including his son, is a "real" researcher anymore.
Much of this complicated academic politics has to do with Eliezer spending his career researching the Talmud, only for someone else to discover a text that proved the same thing he was trying to prove. The other guy printed his version before poor Eliezer, making his research moot.
Uriel, to try to make up for the locked doors in academia his father has encountered all these years, makes sure his dad is nominated for the prestigious Israel Prize every year. He has been nominated for two decades but never has won.
Eliezer finally gets the call from the prize committee that he has won.
Alas, there's the pickle.
A few days later, the committee asks Uriel to come in for a meeting. Apparently, the committee made a mistake. The Israel Prize is supposed to go to him and not his father. A secretary called and asked to speak to Professor Shkolnik and didn't realize the operator transferred her to the wrong Professor Shkolnik.
This is when Uriel pleads with the committee to go ahead and give his father the long-awaited prize. To take it away from him, he tells them, would kill him. It seems the other professors on the committee might agree to Uriel's proposal, but the one kink in the plan is Professor Grossman (Micah Lewensohn), who has had a beef against his father all these years. He has been the roadblock to Eliezer winning the prize, and Uriel thinks it's a personal vendetta and not just a professional one.
"Footnote," written and directed by Joseph Cedar, is one of the few stories that truly gets to the heart of the complicated relationship that can develop between fathers and sons. It's about the father who doesn't think the son has lived up to his expectations, the son who knows he hasn't met his father's expectations, the father who resents the son for his successes, and the son who knows his father resents him for his successes.
The film also is a lesson in respecting and honoring your father, despite his shortcomings - despite the fact he may not respect you academically.
Bar-Aba commands the screen as the very old-school, grumpy professor who is surrounded by musty books, files everything, takes the same route every day and refuses to change his ways or welcome technology. Ashkenazi makes for the perfect foil to Bar-Aba as the charismatic professor who everyone loves and who questions his own role as a father to a teen son with no direction in life.
What's surprising is the movie does have a sense of humor, poking a little fun at those old-school academics who putter along and just do things their own way.
And the ending, a cryptic ending in which you don't really know what the characters will do, is particularly strong.
"Footnote" is definitely a thinking man's film. If you're looking for an action movie, you won't find it here. But fathers and sons, and philologists in particular, will appreciate it.