FOOTNOTE is the tale of a great rivalry between a father and son, two eccentric professors, who both dedicated their lives to work in Talmudic Studies. The father, Eliezer, is a stubborn purist who fears the establishment and has never been recognized for his work. His son, Uriel, is an up-and-coming star in the field, who appears to feed on accolades, endlessly seeking recognition.Then one day, the tables turn. When Eliezer learns that he is to be awarded the Israel Prize, the most valuable honor for scholarship in the country, his vanity and desperate need for validation are exposed. His son, Uriel, is thrilled to see his father's achievements finally recognized but, in a darkly funny twist, is forced to choose between the advancement of his own career and his father's. Will he sabotage his father's glory?
Go figure that a movie about scholarly research can pack such a wallop of dramedic pizzazz and entertaining formal flourish in its examination of the arcana of academe and the mysteries of familial competition. Though it's packed with subtextual meaning on any number of levels, the title of this Israeli import and 2011 foreign language Oscar nominee is also a reference to the only claim to fame of Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba). The cranky, crotchety, and exceptionally old-fashioned professor of Talmudic studies at Jerusalem's Hebrew University has all but perished after not having published despite his relentless examination of obscure texts as a fanatical philologist. His lifelong quest into pure research was usurped by a jealous colleague years earlier, and Eliezer has only one reference to his name: a footnote in the work of a long-dead academic idol. Yet he clings to his old-school approach to intellectual investigation with greater gusto as his final years tick by. His rival in scholarly pursuit is his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), an equally serious man who also teaches at the university, but whose flashy, more populous approach to Talmudic study has earned him wide acclaim. The fact that he's authored so many well-liked books is confirmation to Eliezer that his son's methods and expertise are the antithesis of everything to which the elder Shkolnik has devoted himself for decades. When a mix-up occurs over which Shkolnik is to be awarded a prestigious academic prize, father and son exchange more cerebral bites, provoking barks of laughter from the audience as the mistake complicates itself so unpredictably. Writer-director Joseph Cedar navigates the sea of intellectual and family discord with a genuinely droll touch that's as smart and stinging as it is funny. Using an array of zingy stylistic splashes like time-shifting flashbacks, disarming compositions, fleeting fantasy sequences, lively and often bombastic musical cues, eye-grabbing graphical elements, and clever visual digressions that come across as their own footnotes, Cedar lets loose lots of surprises that reveal the characters' complex inner conflicts. The best scene plays out in a miniscule office crowded with books and way more people than the space was meant to hold, where controversy is exposed and the intrigue behind motivations develops in a combination of near-slapstick comedy and palpable suspense. The acting is terrific, from the antihero dynamic between father and son to sideline players in the ensemble cast that includes wives, children, collaborators, and the security personnel who are a constant presence everywhere anyone goes. Footnote is a satire of intellect and domestic friction that cuts deep with dramatic tension and the insight of its often magical realist sense of high farce. --Ted Fry