Sunday, 19 February 2012
Footnote "Hearat Shulayim" (2011) dir. Joesph Cedar
Starring Shlomo Bar-Aba, Lior Ashkenazi and Micah Lewensohn.
By Blair Stewart
What a wonderful plot for a comedy. What an utterly over-directed film.
Footnote, a Foreign Language Oscar nominee from Israel, prods at two universal sources of humour – the persnickety egos of tenured professors, and the buffoonish moods of fathers and maybe, just maybe, their sons. Perhaps.
Professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) has been buried so deep in Talmudic studies he's emerged on the late side of life a grumpy old homunculus. One of his many rivals in Jewish academia on the opposite end of what he regards as frivolous research happens to be his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), who is more gregarious but retains that Shkolnik family touchiness.
From the opening, comprised of a close-up of Eliezer listening to a long, painful speech, the backstabbing and pettiness in their insular world bleeds out. Eliezer has been waiting on the coveted Israel prize for his painstaking study of his peoples' history, but several decades of zilch has reduced him to a curmudgeonly existence. Shkolnik's disposition hasn't been helped by the cherry-picking of his life's work by his arch-rival, Grossman (Micah Lewensohn, blessed with one of the great knotted brows in cinema, as he appears to have sand dunes attached above his eyebrows), and his only claim to fame is a throwaway mention in an obscure book: Eliezer is the footnote. The story shifts around leading up to that speech, as the Shkolnik clan all spin off in their different trajectories.
An intelligent comedy that lampoons the intelligencia, Footnote distracts from the humorous performances of Ashkenazi, Bar-Aba and Lewensohn with unnecessarily flashy inter-titles, cross-cutting and a deadweight voice-over. It's a droll comedy, directed like a David Fincher thriller.
The stylistic choices are the director's literal expression of Bar-Aba's study, and the film needed something much more subtle. After the first scenes of witty dialogue supported by actors with chemistry and pace, they're let down by moments of tedium. For instance, why are there needless moments of characters walking about, often away from the camera? Is their ass supposed to be funny, or is it a break so I can catch my breath from the guffaws? I appreciate a film told with clarity. We don't need to see the short-ends.
A few notable supporting characters are also either vastly underwritten or have had their lines splashed across the cutting room floor. Earlier scenes of promise featuring the supporting cast members never receive a payoff, which makes the previous time spent with them wasteful. Lastly, the score of Footnote is painfully insistent throughout, as it constantly crashes into the movie as if it was a drunk elephant on a cruise ship. Silence would have sufficed.
Footnote is a waste of talent, but my dad just might enjoy it for Bar-Aba's grouchiness.