Who knew scholarly politics would be so boring? Actually, the idea of a film about bickering academics was surely never going to be anybody’s idea of a rollicking good time, but even the meekest of forms can be stuffed full of steroids to give the illusion of zip and vigour. Instead, writer/director Joseph Cedar (Beaufort) has directed his film with all the dynamism of comatose man, preferring flat visuals to correspond with the lifeless tale of father-son rivalry.
This Israeli film, recently Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, sees a festering jealousy between father and son professors come to a very public light after one is awarded a prestigious award over the other. To say much more would be to spoil the few scant turns Footnote has in store, but if you think it’s the sort of storyline that should lead to all sorts of delicious drama then you would be hopelessly mistaken. Frustratingly limp, scenes of little purpose roll on to one another and eventually take on all the textural dimension of somebody telling you about a really boring dream. By film’s end it was hard to determine what the point of the whole ordeal was as characters appear to be no better or worse than when they first started.
It took some 20 or so minutes into the nauseating music score by Amit Poznansky to realise Footnote is actually supposed to be a comedy. Perhaps bordered in by national identity that was too impenetrable, it’s string of oddball goofs about Israeli intellectuals barely made for a single chuckle. As the clashing family members, Lior Ashkenazi and Shlomo Bar-Aba do enough to at least retain eye-contact with the screen, although Bar-Abai’s grumpy old man look remains painted on for far too long. At least Ashkenazi takes his one big scene, a showdown between himself and a group of officials in a comically cramped broom closet, and adds magnetism. It’s a rare moment where Footnote breaks out of its shell and tries to do something other than merely float on a cloud of stock intellectualism.
Worse still is Cedar’s visual approach to the material. While he occasionally flirts with cinematic concepts – I liked the imagery of the elder professor standing amidst a rubbish dump of useless, forgotten manuscripts – he more often than not is fine to let everything play out in rote fashion. Scene after scene is filmed in simple back-and-forth style that lacks creativity, whereas other moments see long close-ups held on still, unmoving faces. Despite being an original screenplay (it won Best Screenplay prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival) it plays as more stagebound than even recent Broadway titles like Carnage. It has all the presence of an actual footnote, seemingly scribbled on the screen without much care for cinematic language and quickly forgotten to the recesses of the mind.
Footnote is released in Australia on April 19th
Director: Joseph Cedar
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Shlomo Bar-Aba, Alma Zack, Alisa Rosen, Daniel Markovich and Micah Lewensohn