Since the year 2000, Joseph Cedar has made four feature films: Time of Favor, Campfire, Beaufort, and his newest film, Footnote, which is currently playing in theaters in Jerusalem – at the Lev Smadar in the German Colony and at the Jerusalem Theater.
Footnote has created quite a buzz here – because it won the prestigious award for best screenplay at the recent Cannes film festival and also because it is a film which portrays life in this city, from the streets and sites of Jerusalem, to cultural events and mostly academic life and political back-biting at the Hebrew University. Cedar, who directed and wrote the screenplay, grew up in Jerusalem and is the son of a scientific researcher, and is therefore certainly familiar with the local multi-faceted academic world.
The film is critical of the way a faculty member might deny a student his doctorate as a way to take revenge on the student's advisor, or how faculty compete in publishing their research rather than cooperating for the advancement of scientific knowledge.
Although the corruption of the academic system is the main topic of the film, it is also about father-son relations. Prof. Skolnick (Shlomo Bar-Aba), the elder, is a researcher of Talmudic texts, whose greatest recognition is that he was mentioned in a footnote in a major tome published by another academic. He has been waiting all of his life for recognition for his research contribution. His son, also Prof. Skolnick (Lior Ashkenazi), on the other hand, is a well-recognized professor in the same field of Talmud research. Skolnick the father is rather bitter and non-socialized, perhaps even autistic, and only interested in his academic research. Skolnick the son teaches and interacts on a more populist level. In fact, his popularity and lack of depth is illustrated in the film by cute pop-ups that show all the places in town where he lectures on the night of Shavuot, when Jewish text learning has become so popular, especially among modern Orthodox young adults.
These cutesy gimmicks – the pop-ups and other graphic techniques -- make the film more entertaining and, at the same time, create a cinematic tool that juxtaposes the serious narrative construct with the comic, poking fun at certain aspects of the academic scene.
There is a third generation here too. Skolnick the father is into academic research; Skolnick the son has transformed academia into something more populist; and his teenage son has turned away completely from study, in fact, he has no life path whatsoever. Although portrayed both humorously and emotionally, this is a shocking denouement for centuries of serious scholarship!
Although I was disappointed in the peripheral roles of the women in the film, I was taken with the melodrama of the central plot element which was intensely chauvinistic and competitive. As in Cedar's previous films, this film deals with issues of masculinity and chauvinism and how they are expressed in the contemporary Israeli scene. Issues of father-son relations were also explored in Time of Favor as seen in the figure of the charismatic rabbi and the obedience that he required from his yeshiva students.
Why did the film win a prize for its screenplay? Certainly because of its unique construct, its mixing of comic elements with the melodramatic, its grappling with issues of corruption in the world of academia, and its reference to an ancient Biblical theme – should a father require sacrifice from his own son?