Friday, March 23, 2012

A father and son rivalry

Footnote (2011) is a Hebrew father-and-son film I enjoyed recently.

The father is Professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Sholomo Bar Aba), a Talmud scholar who has invested his life scrutinizing ancient Hebrew texts. His frustration is that he has never once been acknowledged for his academic work, which would otherwise have been groundbreaking, had it not been for his colleague who published a paper ahead of him, rendering his lifelong work obsolete. Eliezer's achievement, if you can call it that, is his having been mentioned in a footnote on a book written by a legendary scholar.

The son is Professor Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi), also a Talmud scholar, but someone who always had, shall we say, an easier life. He is popular and multi-awarded. His university classes are bursting with students. The rest of the country seems to know his name. He shows so much promise, even at such a young age.

The film opens with a ceremony that welcomes Uriel into the Israeli Academy of Sciences, a highbrow exclusive circle among the distinguished scholars of the day. The father, instead of being exultant, sits in frustration—joyless, devoid of pride or any supportive emotion.

One gets the impression that there's a conflict going on somewhere. Clearly the father isn't proud of his son. He disapproves of Uriel's work, dismissing it as an amateurish attempt at scholarship. Uriel doesn't know of this animosity at first, because in his speech in that ceremony, he calls his father his inspiration.

Then one day, Eliezer gets a call. He has won the Israel Prize, the caller says. It's an extraordinary distinction he has been waiting for 20 years of his life. Throughout these years, he has been nominated constantly, but he has never won.

Apparently, the caller made a mistake. She had really wanted to contact Uriel, the actual winner of this year's prize, but she dialed the wrong number. Uriel is summoned by the awards committee, and they meet inside a cramped room filled with nervous, old men. That meeting is funny, especially that episode where Uriel punches the face of his father's rival.

Does Uriel tell his father the truth and burst his dream—or self-esteem—forever?

Reasons why I like this film:

1. The bookshelves and the study areas of the two scholars. I'd feel so at home in a room surrounded by books, especially old ones.

2. The dialogue. The rhythm of the Hebrew language sounds so melodious.

3. Professor Grossman's wrinkly forehead, and the soporific sound of his voice.

4. Professor Eliezer's yellow headphones.

5. The sound of pencil scratching on paper, especially when the characters scribble on their notebooks. In this day and age, nothing really beats actual pen and paper.



Post a Comment

<< Home