Sunday, August 14, 2011


There are lots of topics worthy of a movie - father/son relationships, moral dilemmas, academic rivalry and Asperger's syndrome but few movies deal with all of these at once. Footnote does. It's hard to try and describe the plot succinctly, but I shall try.

Footnote centres around the two Professors Schkolnik - the Father (Eliezer) and Son (Uriel) who both work in the Talmudic Studies Department at the Hebrew University. Eliezer is a philologist whose life's work on translations of the Talmud was gazumped by just before publication by a Professor Grossman's rival publication. Eliezer exhibits signs of Asperger's syndrome - he has walked the same route to work every day for the last forty years, always works with industrial ear protection and has an impressive scrapbook collection and a permanent frown. Uriel is much more involved in teaching and networking and is a more sociable and communicative guy.

One day, Eliezer gets a phone call to say that he has been awarded the Israel Prize - remarkable not just because it's Israel's highest honour but because he has been nominated every year for the last twenty years and never won, and because Professor Grossman is the chairman of the judging committee.

Next, Uriel gets a phone call from Professor Grossman summonsing him to a secret meeting at the University. The meeting is the Israel Prize judging committee and they tell him he's there because he has been nominated for the Israel Prize and that the phone call to his father was a mistake. They want Uriel to be the one to break the news to his father, which is, of course, an appalling prospect This meeting is the comic centrepiece of the film - about 8 mostly elderly academics packed into a tiny office (the door can't be opened without someone getting up) discussing a highly emotive topic. Initially Uriel agrees to tell his Father but later persuades the committee to award this prize to his father anyway. Grossman agrees but only if Uriel writes the judges citation.

And therein lies the problem. Eliezer is a wordsmith, and he recognizes his son's style. He's already had his suspicions raised by the very long time the letter confirming his prize took to arrive. The great lengths that his son has gone to to preserve his dignity and his feelings are to no avail. And of course being inhibited in the communication department, they're never going to discuss it.

Footnote is, at times, almost excruciating to watch. It has elements of a detective story, like Name of the Rose, so you get quite involved. At times, its very funny. Given how much the people next to me were laughing, it's probably funnier if you are more familiar with Israel that I am. It certainly makes you reflect on the merits of trying to spare someone's feelings, whether they'd be grateful if they knew and whether they'd reciprocate if they were in the same position. And you can reflect on how relatives aren't always easy to love.

Anne's rating 3/5

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