The movie - Footnote
"Footnote" is a Joseph Cedar film that was nominated for an Academy Award in the best foreign language film category. As it is now available on DVD, I checked it out of my local library to view. Billed as a comedy, it looked like it had potential to fill an enjoyable evening.
Son and Father - Talumudic scholars
"Footnote" is the story of a father, Eliezer Schlotnik, who devoted his entire career to studying word changes in various Talmudic commentaries, painstakingly tracing through texts, and coming up with a complete, early version of text. Meanwhile, a fellow scholar finds the actual early text, publishes, and essentially negates Eliezer's entire life's work. The elder Schlotnik is an eccentric, and seemingly bitter man. He has always wanted the Israel prize (the top award for scholarhip), and has been an applicant for 20 years, but has not ever won. His one claim to fame is that he is mentioned in a footnote in another scholar's publication.
Meanwhile, Uriel is also a scholar and professor, and is nominated for the Israel prize. In an odd turn of events, the Eliezer is mistakenly informed that he has won the Israel prize! Imagine his happiness and validation after all of these years. However, the award was really intended for Uriel, the son. What is a son to do? The committee wishes him to inform his father. Despite their rocky relationship, Uriel cannot take away this happiness, and feels that his father deserves the prize after all of his hard work over the years. Enter the dilemma: the committee informs Uriel that either he must inform his father and claim his prize, or forfeit his right to be nominated for the coveted Israel prize in the future. Uriel faces an agonizing decision. The committee will not do the paperwork for his father to get the award, but will sign off on it if Uriel submits it. Uriel makes his choice, sacrifices his own future, and does the paperwork.
Although there are some quite comedic scenes, particularly as the committee meets, this is more drama than comedy.
Eliezer sleuthing out the truth.
Ever the scholar, Eliezer reads over his nominating paperwork carefully. And notices something. He researches and examines, finding in his son's writings the same word choices and patterns that are in his nominating paperwork. As the truth unfolds, we wonder what Eliezer will do. He knows it is not his prize. He knows what Uriel is doing for him. As the movie ends, Eliezer is going up to accept his award. He has one more shot to admit the truth...what will he do?
This movie seemed a bit more like those short stories you read in high school English classes than a typical comedy. However, the acting is solid, the characters are believeable, as are the family relationships, and this movie will hold your interest and creates a surprising amount of tension. Rated PG, it runs for 106 minutes, and is in Hebrew with subtitles.
So what happens at the end? Your guess is as good as mine. Although I longed for Eliezer to do the right thing, and honor the sacrifice of his son Uriel, I saw nothing in Eliezer's character throughout the film to make me believe he would do anything but walk right up there and claim his prize. And maybe he deserved the prize after all his years of work. I couldn't find a satisfactory ending in my own mind. This movie will make you think, however, and is worth a look.