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'Footnote' Takes On Ambition, Father-Son Rivalry


The Israeli film "Footnote" has racked up a pile of awards - Best Screenplay at Cannes, nine awards at Israel's Oscars, and a nomination for Best Foreign Language film at the Academy Awards.

Film critic Kenneth Turan says it's all deserved.

KENNETH TURAN: "Footnotes"'s subject matter sounds dry, unlikely, even obscure. The film is set in Jerusalem's Hebrew University and deals with the implacable rivalry between two scholars of the Talmud, the complex and sacred text of the Jewish religious tradition.

These competitive scholars, the misanthropic Eliezer and the gregarious Uriel, also just happen to be father and son. It is the gift, however, of writer-director Joseph Cedar to make the rivalries of this esoteric world fertile ground for such involving themes as the price of ambition, the need for recognition and the tension between fathers and sons.

Eliezer, the father, is a philologist, a close textual researcher into language. He spent more than 30 years painstakingly analyzing different versions of the Talmud only to be beaten to publication by another scholar. This disappointment has turned Eliezer into a cantankerous contrarian who is difficult with everyone, even unbending Israeli security guards.


TURAN: Eliezer is a fussy minimalist, son Uriel is a born schmoozer who writes expansively and conceptually on what the Talmud might mean without worrying overly much about the specific words, an approach that is anathema to his father.

"Footnote" kicks into gear when Eliezer, of all people, wins the highly coveted Israel Prize, the country's top academic honor. What happens next intertwines comedy and tragedy in a way that feels classically Jewish and completely new.

"Footnote" does more than ask the provocative question - what is more important than truth? It attempts to answer it as well.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.