In a brilliant new twist on the theme of “fathers and sons,” Israeli director Joseph Cedar’s film Footnote examines the rivalry between two generations of Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Eliezar is a philologist who spent decades tracking down obscure inconsistencies that proved the existence of a lost version of the Talmud, only to have his glory snatched away at the last moment by an academic rival. His son, Uriel, is a “rock star professor” of what might be called “Talmudic Cultural Studies,” the snazzier and less meticulous cousin of his father’s rigorous discipline.
When Uriel is nominated for the prestigious Israel Prize, the tormented knot that is their relationship grows, kink by kink, throughout the movie, toward a choose-your-own-adventure ending with three possible conclusions, all of them deeply unsettling.
This wry, sometimes explosive satire on academic ambition is pure delight for anyone who has spent time slogging away at a dissertation, or dreamt of becoming a tweed-coated department chair with a stack of weighty tomes to his (or her) name. And beneath the ironies lie serious, painful questions about family loyalty and responsibility.