Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Telluride 2011, Day 4: Footnote

Telluride 38 is over, and although it was somewhat exhausting, I am sad to see it go. On the final day at the festival, I tried to get into Asghar Farhadi’s much-loved and Berlin-winning “A Separation,” but, for the first time, I was shut out due to a massive turnout at a small venue. Thus, wanting to see at least one more film while I was in Colorado, I made my way over to see Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote.” I had wanted to watch it, due to a recommendation or two and its Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, but I didn’t have the highest expectations. I had read some negative coverage earlier in the year and figured that it might be below average.

Instead, powered by Cedar’s rightfully awarded script (in Hebrew), “Footnote” is sharp and haunting, a propulsive film that ruminates on the cost of a great legacy. It centers on the awarding of the Israel Prize, given for excellence in research of the Talmud, as the thorough Eliezer Scholnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) realizes his career dream by winning it. The problem is, his much more well-known son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) was actually supposed to have been given the honors. The announcement has already been made in the paper, though, so Uriel feels as if Eliezer would be devastated if he found out that he had lost and that Uriel (whom he resents) was the real recipient. But the judges, especially the chief (Micah Lewensohn), who has ties to Eliezer’s past, feel as if the prize would be trivialized if given to someone who wasn’t voted the winner. Thus, a shattering choice is created that will birth horrible consequences no matter the way taken.

It doesn’t help that Eliezer is an insufferable narcissist who has a reputation for covering all the bases but no major works to show it. His winning the award seems as times to make no sense even to him, but it would boost opinions of his career and thus he really wants it. Uriel consciously made sure never to nominate himself for the prize any of the many years that Eliezer has been trying to win it, but he receives a nod by one of the judges and finds himself in a decidedly unenviable position: both wanting prestige and happiness for his father. Meanwhile, his own son isn’t satisfying Uriel’s grand plans for his future and another strain comes as a result.

The film is exceptionally written, full of strong scenes, the most prominent one coming when Uriel is informed of the situation by the judges in an extremely small room. The characters always sound like real people and what they say is all the more piercing for it. Ashkenazi’s terrific performance as Uriel definitely helps the film as well, as he nails the part’s mix of conviction and uncertainty. The film’s use of close-ups also adds a layer of anxiety to the already tense mood.

I think “Footnote” is a couple steps below a masterpiece due to its suitably traditional but enervating and too forceful score (Cedar lacks the confidence in other places that he displays in his writing) and at times not living up to the clarity and thematic prowess of its centerpiece discussion. I also can see some (possible) echoes of the work of Zadie Smith in the film’s structure and the characters’ traits. But these flaws can be forgotten once you get pondering Cedar’s perceptiveness. B+

That's it for me. It was a great festival, and I hope to return next year.

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