Screening stories about Israel

Screening stories about Israel

Eric Goldman writes and teaches about Jewish cinema. He is president of Ergo Media, a distributor of Jewish, Yiddish and Israeli film.

Just like a page of Talmud, Joseph Cedar’s new Israeli film “Footnote” is layered with various references and underlying footnotes. If you understand them, then it is just that much more fun and challenging, and a reason to watch the film a second or third time to delve even deeper. If you do not notice these visual and aural references, it matters not, because you will still find this a powerful film and quite the masterpiece. About how many films today can one say that? Cedar has hit a home run on this, his fourth feature film, even though he failed a second time to take home an Oscar.

“Footnote” is about two eccentric professors, a father and son, who have dedicated their life’s work to talmudic studies. In today’s academic world, the competition can be relentless, and it appears that it is no different in the small Talmudic Studies department at the university where both teach and do research, a school clearly modeled after the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Which one of the two, however, gets the attention and the accolades? Each is different in demeanor, personality, and public persona. It appears that Uriel, the son, with his winning manner, has become the popular one on campus, the one most sought after. Eliezer, the elder (Shlomo Bar Aba), whose love for the Talmud was clearly passed down to his child, seems otherwise to have little to show for his career, other than a “footnote” credit in a master volume written by his beloved teacher.

The film begins with Uriel Shkolnick (Lior Ashkenazi) gaining admittance into a prestigious academic society that has never admitted his father. Cedar mixes humor and pathos as we watch Uriel, in his acceptance speech, laud his father the teacher, who sits quietly in the audience.

It is at this very moment that we begin to understand the complex relationship between the two and the apparent competition that exists. Writer/director Joseph Cedar takes aim at the cutthroat nature of the academy by showing how love between a father and son and a competition between two professors play out on the field of scholarship, where the end reward is recognition and fame. The film weaves in a variety of complex and “footnoted” moments, as we wait to see who will win this contest.

Cedar is one of a new group of Israeli filmmakers who have begun to explore Jewish subjects. This development in Israeli cinema is quite exciting as these Jewishly-connected artists are turning their attention to a world that is their own. Who could have imagined a story about teachers of the Talmud coming to the screen, much less being nominated for an Academy Award?

Read the full review, originally published March 9, 2012, at

Read an exclusive interview with filmmaker Joseph Cedar at

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