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'Footnote': academic father/son rivalry

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Shlomo Bar Aba plays a washed-up scholar in 'Footnote.'
  • Shlomo Bar Aba plays a washed-up scholar in 'Footnote.'

Professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba) is a simmering old scholar, bitter after his years of researching religious texts were marginalized when a colleague published a work that made his efforts seem redundant. After decades of work, his only acknowledgment is a mention in a footnote of a prominent figure's book.

His son, Professor Uriel Shkolnik (Lio Ashkenazi), a people person, has enjoyed both success and popularity in academia over the years, galling the senior Shkolnik even more. Could things get worse? Certainly, when a bureaucratic mistake results in ... actually, I'm going to refrain from revealing the twist, even though most articles about the film spill the details. Suffice to say it's a beaut, throwing a number of people into a delicious ethical quandary.

Written and directed by Joseph Cedar, the Israel-set film (in Hebrew with subtitles) is simultaneously a drama and a satire about father/son conflicts and political maneuvering among power brokers. The ethical debates in the latter part of the story are juicy, the comic scenes don't undermine the serious themes, and the film is well cast, with Ashkenazi getting many of the more demanding scenes and handling them with a fine mix of puffery, eloquence and exasperation.

Watch the fiery debates between his character and Professor Grossman (the excellent Micah Lewensohn, whose forehead makes me one wonder if he was the product of a Earthling/Klingon marriage), his father's chief rival. I wish that the senior Shkolnik was less of a cipher, and I wasn't wild about the last scene, but Footnote remains one of the more rewarding films of the last few months.

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