Friday, January 29, 2016
At the Movies: Footnote
Joseph Cedar, 2011.
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 90% Fresh
Footnote is one of the funniest and most touching movies I’ve seen since I started reviewing movies. I want to say that right off, because it might also be a bit of a tough sell for your movie night. This is, after all, the story of an extremely competitive father and son, both Talmud scholars, who have mutually hostile approaches to scholarship and a shared craving for recognition by the intellectual establishment. And it’s great. It’s funny not like a joke is funny, but like your troubles are funny on the days you’re able to laugh at them. It’s touching not because the father and son at the center of the story are able to resolve their estrangement, but because their failure to connect makes them so damn human.
The story told in the movie is simultaneously ludicrous and all too plausible. I’m not going to tell you any more about it here, for two reasons. First, from an outline of the plot, you would not think that this movie would be watchable, let alone entertaining. And second, I don’t want to spoil the fun: this is a film best watched not knowing where it’s going to end up. Mind you, part of where it’s going to end up is “unresolved,” too such an extent that Mrs.5000 and I initially howled at the screen in protest when the credits rolled. The more we thought about it, though, the more we realized that the film ended at the right point, indeed at the point where it absolutely had to end.
The film begins with the son being received into a prestigious academy of sciences and humanities. We see the father and son sitting together as the son is introduced. But as he mounts the stage and begins a speech filled with praise of his father, the camera stays on the older man, watching his obvious discomfort and envy. It is a very long scene, acted almost entirely with facial expression, but when it is over we have already begun to understand the mutual resentment that these two men are trapped in.
This kind of deft, unorthodox framing is a big part of what makes this film work so well. Another example appears in a scene where a young reporter is interviewing the father, who is anything but media savvy. The reporter, who is a lovely young woman, begins to sense the depth of animosity that her subject has for his son’s research, and we watch her predatory journalist’s instincts kick in. As she asks a series of questions inviting the naïve older man to talk trash about his son’s research, the camera pulls in so close to her that her features take on a distinctly devilish aspect. Instilling a distinct sense of menace into the scene, it’s the kind of directorial trick that works whether you notice it or not.
In addition to visual flare, Footnote has a great original soundtrack and virtuoso performances by its two leads, Shlomo Bar’aba as the father, wonderfully curmudgeonly in a performance of few words that is carried almost entirely by body language, and Lior Ashkenazi as the son, charming, exasperated, and insecure, who seldom stops talking long enough to take a breath.
This is such a terrific movie. You should watch it! Maybe you’d enjoy it as much as I did!
Michael5000's imdb rating: 9.