Friday, April 6, 2012

Joseph Cedar: Footnote

Lior Ashkanazi, Shlomo Bar-Aba, Footnote, Sony Pictures Classics, 2012.

Addressing the complex field of Jewish theology, Israeli director laureate Joseph Cedar crafts a miracle movie: a picture which manages to excel at being both an entirely engulfing joy of an entertainment and a challenging treatise on Israeli-Jewish thought and culture. No recent film has risen to intelligent audience expectations with the certainty of Cedar's remarkable sophomore feature.

Essentially a story of fathers and sons, this rich narrative touches on unspoken intellectual codes, Jewish masculinity, and ethics. Shlomo Bar-Aba crafts one of the most beguilingly believable male senior citizens I've seen since Nicholson's turn in Payne's About Schmidt. A Talmud scholar whose work has never been recognized aside from his being a footnote in his mentor's great tome, Eliezer is an endlessly perplexing character. Lior Ashkanazi is extraordinary in a subtly shaded performance as his rival Talmudic-scholar son, Uriel. We are thrust into their world of over-serious scholars and thesis backstabbings. A mix-up over the coveted Israel prize places both father and son in moral whirlpools.

Cinematographer Yaron Scharf shades all the action incisively. Composer Amit Poznansky wields a score of gentle emotion. Cedar's masterful grasp of a plot filled with wonderful characters and dialogue, does not exceed his grip. The tartly humorous tone becomes intertwined with a narrative which feels, at times, like a thriller. The moral conundrum of it all is familial bonds at odds with intellectual recognition. That we are so swept up by it all, and ultimately moved, attests to Cedar's exposed strength as an artist.

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