Following his Oscar-nominated, deeply moving anti-war film Beaufort (2007), director Joseph Cedar continues to raise his profile with Footnote (2011), a uniquely comedic exploration into issues of pride, sacrifice and jealousy through a fragile family dynamic which won him the prestigious best screenplay award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
The story of a fierce rivalry between a father and son (both highly regarded academics specialising in the Talmud) Footnote skilfully mixes dry wit with high drama. The son has an obsessive thirst for the acclaim his work has awarded him, perhaps due to his father’s disdain for the modern and unscientific approach he has taken, offering him little paternal support or praise.
Indeed, his father is a purist who’s years of being neglected by the Israel Prize committee (Israel’s most prestigious national award for science and research) have made him stubborn, severely lacking in social skills and standing alone in the insular world he has created for himself, consoling himself with his meagre claim to fame – being included in the footnote of one of Israel’s most famous professor’s textbooks. However when a clerical error throws up a moral dilemma for the Son, he must choose what means more to him, family or success.
Almost novelistic in its approach to explaining the motives of its central protagonists, Footnote’s greatest achievement is its inventive narrative approach. A heavy use of close ups coupled with non-diegetic narration allows the film to simultaneously focus on two emotional responses with equal measure, letting the impressive dialogue resonate more effectively than a more conventional approach would have achieved.
The delightfully wry script contains shades of Charlie Kaufman’s unique ability to successfully inject moments of dark humour into an otherwise serious film, creating a surprisingly charming and light series of encounters within these heavily frayed relationships.
The film’s intrusive yet hugely enjoyable score stirs the hidden feelings that remain unsaid whilst encouraging the script’s methodical pace into a more leisurely tempo, lifting the hugely intellectual content of this tense struggle into a more accessible drama.
Footnote’s quirky façade may not be to everyone’s tastes, with it subjective humour and at times overly dramatic approach depending heavily on the viewer falling for its inventive techniques to truly grasp the subtle tragedy which underpins this light-hearted romp. Yet, there remains much to love from this gloriously enjoyable film that whilst perhaps not as poignant or important as Cedar’s deeply moving Beaufort remains a hugely enjoyable experience.
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