Friday, 20 January 2012

Abraham meets Lumière in "Footnote"

Eliezer Shkolnik’s life is turned upside down when his life-long research of an ancient Talmudic manuscript is proven worthless by one of his rival scholars. As if that was not enough, his son is about to receive the Israel Prize, the most prestigious recognition in Israel which Eliezer aspired to all his life. But to give his bitter story a comedic twist, a newspaper that announces the winners of the Israel Prize mistakes Eliezer for his son and leads him to believe that his scholarly efforts will finally be appreciated after all.

The story of Footnote parallels with the symbolism of the Talmudic teachings, accenting on certain aspects of morality concerned with an act of sacrifice. We see Eliezer as a committed scholar who spends his days on a thorough dissertation of the Talmudic texts, making his world revolve around the grim interiors of the library at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But as he deepens into his work he grows more and more detached from his family, turning into a neglectful husband and a jealous father. He is a purist who strongly believes in the purpose of his work and undermines everyone who tends to take a different approach to the ancient texts he studies – including his son.

Uriel discovers that his father meets a strange woman during the days he spends at the University. The cloud of mystery surrounding these meetings suggests that we will not be able to have a clear outlook on the character and therefore we are unfit to make any judgement about his sense of morality. The director of the film chooses to remain playful throughout instead of giving us definite answers. But his playfulness doesn’t stop at creating a dynamic story; he conceives an amalgamation between the aesthetic approaches used in literature and those used in crafting a cinematic experience. We see several footnotes flashing on the screen, whenever the director diversifies the main plot by providing some background to each character’s story. The dichotomy between the two main characters, one representing science and facts (Eliezer) and the other representing fiction and interpretation (Ulrik) is a feature that brings to focus the film’s main strength – its cultural inter-textuality.

The father-son relationship and its complexities are what drives the narrative of Talmud and inspires a plethora of Judaic traditions and rituals. The director dwells on these complexities and in the process of telling the story of Footnote the director exposes his own intimate relationship with the subject. As far as the film goes I wish there was a bit more intimacy built between the characters and the audience. Cedar puts too much attention on the cerebral entanglements of the story omitting the emotional side of each character. Even though the covenant to which Cedar engages his audience isn’t necessarily of Abrahamic proportions, the film has enough stamina to make it worthwhile. 

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