Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Joseph Cedar's Footnote could be a typical modern Jewish family drama, something in Jerry Seinfeld’s memory bank or literarily up against Larry David’s kitchen sink in Curb Your Enthusiasm. There is a scene in which we see three generations of a Jewish family piled into the car after watching Fiddler with the grandfather humming “Tradition.” And the father and son conflict is the substance of the kind of Yiddishkeit that would have been at home on Second Avenue a century ago. Two factors complicate matters: the son Uriel Shkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi) and his father Eliezer (Shlomo bar Aba) are both Talmudic scholars and the movie takes place in Israel (whose own struggles with secularism and modernity are mirrored in the generational struggle that the film plays out). The plot hinges on many questions which the Talmud surely deals with. One is the question of righteousness. Should a man be righteous and honest when it causes another great pain? A simple and almost iconic struggle between father and son becomes a black hole in which centuries of ethics and morality are brought to bear on the answer to this question. Eliezer, whose publication is limited (the footnote of the title refers to a minor mention in his mentor's work) embodies a past in which great scholars devoted their lives to scholarship for its own sake. His son, who has published many books and works out his aggressions on the paddle ball court, is a creature of the modern world who plainly wouldn’t mind his Talmudic commentaries selling on Amazon. It’s interesting to ponder into which category the great Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz, whose Talmud is on Amazon, would fall. Library carrels are as ubiquitous in Footnote as boudoirs were in the Hollywood movies of the 30’s and talking about books and libraries, there is an almost Borgesian obsession with language and citation which eventually builds to a surreal finale in a wonderful cross cutting scene as father and son attempt to diminish each other’s achievements.

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