Monday, January 30, 2012
Footnote, Israel’s Oscar Nominee for Best Foreign Film
Headlines this past week stated that the ‘Israeli film industry is a surprising powerhouse’ due to the fact that the country has had four nominations for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the past five years, “giving Israel more nominations during that period than any other country.”
But, no Israeli film has ever won the coveted award. With an Iranian film the favorite for this year’s Oscar, the Israeli film “Footnote” will probably remain just that, a footnote on the list of the country’s nominated films that just miss winning top accolades.
I saw “Footnote” last week, wondering if it was too Israeli, or possibly too Jewish, to win an Oscar. The story deals with two Talmudic scholars teaching and conducting research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The scholars are a father and a son, and the film centers on the rivalry between them. While the story concerns Jewish texts, it is the father-son relationship that is the true heart of the film, and which makes it worthy of a wider audience of viewers.
The film, written and directed by Joseph Cedar, alternates its mood between comic and melodramatic. Some scenes, like the crowded Ministry of Education award committee meeting in a closet-size file room, make their impact immediately but then continue a bit longer than they should. Other story lines begin but never offer the viewer a sense of full closure, as in the younger scholar’s relationship with his teenage son. Perhaps this is the director’s ultimate intention, to raise questions and let the viewer consider the alternative answers after the film is over.
The true gem in “Footnotes” is actor Shlomo Bar-Aba, a comedian that generations of Israelis remember dearly for his portrayal of mustached accordion player Yatsek on the satiric television series, “Zehu Zeh”. In the film, Bar-Aba displays an astounding range of facial expressions, all of them intensely serious and suggesting a huge amount of resentment and anger steaming just below the surface and ready to explode at any moment.
“Footnote” also stars Lior Ashkenazi, star of Israeli films such as “Walk on Water” and “Late Marriage”.
Cedar was previously nominated in the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Film category for his film Beaufort (2007), a story of Israeli soldiers stationed in an outpost prior to the army’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
“Footnote” won the Best Screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and swept most of the 2011 awards of the Israeli Film Academy, including the Ophir Award for Best Picture. Unfortunately, it has stiff competition this year at the Academy Awards.
The Iranian film “A Separation” is the favorite to win the Oscar, as long as the Iranians don’t boycott the awards due to the fact that they’re in direct competition with an Israeli entry.
Just being nominated, however, is a huge compliment. "It's a badge of honor for Israel," said Moshe Edery, one of “Footnote’s” producers. "It's Israel's best business card around the world, especially these days."
If you saw "Footnote," what did you think? Is it worthy of an Oscar?