“I love my daddy, but my daddy doesn’t love me” is one of the main themes in Joseph Cedar’s Footnote, winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival and one of the other great foreign films nominated for an Academy Award in 2012. Footnote’s focus of a shaky relationship between father and son is heightened by a genius plot device which reminded me of other recent films with extremely original screenplays such as Midnight in Paris and Inception.
Footnote is about a father and son who are both teachers at an Israeli university. The father, Professor Eliezer Shkolnik, is an extremely serious philologist who has been studying the Talmud his whole life. His middle-aged son, Uriel Shkolnik, is more of an outgoing, extremely popular professor in the same Talmudic research department as his father. The father and son have an extremely strained relationship with each other, mainly because Eliezer thinks his son’s Talmudic studies are a complete joke and not important for the Talmud. To make matters worse, Uriel receives more praise and respect within the academic community, while Eliezer is totally ignored for his lifelong diligent studies. All Eliezer is known for is a tiny little footnote in one book by his famous, long-deceased teacher who used to be an all-star professor of the Talmud. The footnote may not be important to non-Jews, but to Eliezner and within the Jewish religious community, his footnote is like the equivalent of having your name acknowledged by the genius likes of Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison.
The simple yet original storyline revolves around a hilarious but also very sad miscommunication scenario. Each year, Israel rewards scientists and other academics with the Israel Prize (sort of like the equivalent of a Nobel Peace Prize award). Eliezer’s goal in life is to win this prestigious award but gets ignored by the judges year after year, which is one of the other reasons why he’s such a bitter, angry, and sad man. Everything changes when Eliezer receives the phone call he’s been waiting for his whole life – the Ministry of Education tells him that he won the prize this year. Eliezer is happy that his lifetime of work finally got acknowledged and tells all his close friends the extremely joyous news. Soon after, Uriel also receives a phone call from the Israel Prize committee with urgent news that he must come to their office as soon as possible. At their office, Uriel is told that they made a huge mistake. Since they both have the same last name, The Ministry of Education accidentally calls Eliezer instead when it was Uriel who should have received the call. The Israel Prize was meant for Uriel, not for the father. What follows is an incredibly complicated dilemma:
1. The Ministry of Education could explain the mistake to Eliezer, telling him that he didn’t win but in fact his son won. Uriel believes that this kind of news would absolutely devastate his father and ruin any relationship they still have.
2. The Ministry of Education could allow Eliezer to receive the prize that he doesn’t deserve. The only catch is that his son Uriel would never be allowed the chance to win the prize in future voting.
By allowing his father to receive the prize, does Uriel sacrifice his respect in the academic community and keep the mistake secret so that they can have a chance at having a close relationship again? Or since their relationship sucks already, could he care less about his father who shows no love to him and just let the Ministry of Education tell Eliezer the bad news? These are the difficult choices that Uriel must ponder in this extremely well-written movie.
Along with Footnote’s intense story, the acting is worth noting as well. After reading about the two lead actors after watching this film, I didn’t even realize that I was watching two of Israel’s biggest stars. Shlomo Bar-Aba, playing the father Eliezer, is considered to be the Peter Sellers of Israel. Since his role was written for him by the director, he practically came out of retirement after not being in a theatrical film for twenty years. His portrayal of a questionably autistic professor is one of the most unusual performances I’ve seen this year. It’s no wonder that he won Best Actor for the Israeli Film Academy Awards. Even more impressive is Lior Ashkenazi, who plays the son Uriel. I never knew this actor’s name, but I had no idea that I was watching my favorite Israeli actor. Lior Ashkenazi is considered to be one of the biggest leading men in Israel, sort of like an Israeli version of George Clooney. I was amazed by his presence in other Israeli films such as Late Marriage and Walk on Water. I had no idea I was watching him in Footnote, because he has a complete physical make-over in this film sort of like what Robert De Niro did for Raging Bull or Charlize Theron in Monster. For Footnote, this actor transformed from a clean-cut, buff, handsome man into a shlumpy, bearded, bulky rabbi-looking man. I can’t believe this is the same actor and he too rightly deserved to win Best Supporting Actor at the Israeli Film Academy Awards.
Sony presents Footnote in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in a very satisfying 1080p hi-def transfer that exhibits excellent detail and gorgeous color reproduction. You would have to be pretty picky to find any obvious flaws in this transfer – the video is extremely clear that shows great texture and a lot of detail in all close-up, medium, and long distance shots. There are a bunch of night scenes which exhibit strong black levels. Skin tones look nice and natural. As usual, Sony has just added another amazing Blu-ray to their catalog. As a fan of foreign flicks, I have been so pleased with Sony’s consistent respect to their foreign film releases on Blu-ray. Just beautiful!
The Hebrew DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 offers a very subtle but enveloping soundtrack to enhance the viewing experience. As a dialogue-driven film, dialogue is expectedly nice and clear as possible. The score makes use of all speakers with excellent separation. The surround sounds rev up during some of the film’s imaginative editing. Overall, this audio is well-balanced and sounds as good as you could ever expect this type of film to sound.
Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles are also included.
A couple of extras are satisfying enough to get the scoop about Footnote and where the story originated from. Director Joseph Cedar shares some humorous and interesting tidbits about the film and how he came up with the idea for the film (basically due to a similar experience that happened to him in his life).
– Behind the Scenes of Joseph Cedar’s Film: Footnote (24:01)
– An Evening with Joseph Cedar (09:35)
– Theatrical Trailer
Footnote’s story is far from being unrealistic. I don’t know about others, but so many dilemmas in my life have revolved around simple little misunderstandings. With creative direction and an absorbing storyline, Footnote explores family conflict, pride, and hypocrisy in an absolutely entertaining way that is both funny and sad at the same time.
Sony has put together a Blu-ray with gorgeous video quality, pleasing audio, and a few interesting extras. Footnote is definitely a must-see Oscar-nominated film that should be experienced on Blu-ray!