Reviewed by Marc Glassman
This Israeli comedy comes festooned with honours. The international hype on this film started with its laudatory debut at last year’s Cannes film festival where director-writer Joseph Cedar garnered the Best Screenplay Prize.
It continued during its successful run in Israel, which was capped by Footnote winning nine Ophir awards (the country’s equivalent to the Oscars), including for Best Picture. And, of course, Footnote was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, a tough category—quite frankly, far better than the English language nominees—where it lost to A Separation.
Dysfunctional family tragi-comedy; satire on university scholars
The Shkolnik family is blessed—or cursed—with two scholars in Talmudic literature at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Eliezer, the father, is a cranky old man and pure researcher, who feels woefully unrecognized by his colleagues, particularly his department head and rival Professor Yehuda Grossman. Uriel, Shkolnik’s son, is everything Eliezer is not: he’s witty and personable, a great teacher and a widely published writer.
One day, Eliezer receives a phone call from the cultural minister. To his amazement, he’s won the Israeli Prize, the accolade he’s coveted for decades. His family is happy for him, in particular Uriel, who knows that his father secretly resents his success.
The next day, to Uriel’s horror, he’s summoned to a meeting of scholars including Grossman. It turns out that the Minister had made a mistake—the prize was meant for Uriel, not Eliezer.
Uriel has to decide whether to fight to give the prize to his father anyway—and deal with the consequences in his own academic and personal life. His decision resonates throughout the rest of this ironic study of people, prizes and power.