Another of this year’s Best Foreign Language Film nominees, Footnote may not be as intense or soul-searching as A Separation or In Darkness, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t superior satisfying entertainment. Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar mines the richest vein in the world for his material: the quirks and foibles of human nature.
It helps, too, if like me you are unfamiliar with his leading actors; this makes it easy to accept them without having to shed baggage of other parts they’ve played. Shlomo Bar Aba portrays an aging Talmudic scholar who has spent his entire life examining the minutiae of Torah translations, without the recognition he feels he deserves. He is more than merely a curmudgeon; he has become downright antisocial, a man who lives in an almost-hermetic world of his own. Lior Ashkenazi plays his son, also a scholar but in every other way his polar opposite: a popular, outgoing author, professor and communicator. On the surface they get along, but there has always been an underlying tension between them. Then an incident I don’t care to divulge threatens to fan those flames.
One might not think the workings of academia would be the stuff of high drama, or mordant wit, but in Cedar’s capable hands, they are. Footnote is a completely absorbing film that draws you into the lives of its characters and even builds suspense as to how their dilemma will be resolved. With a deep reserve of irony and wit, the filmmaker and his actors envelop us completely. The setting may be Israel, but the story could take place anywhere; as we’ve seen many times before, the more specific a storyteller is in spinning his tale, the more universal it becomes.