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Essman, E. (2013). Footnote: directed by Joseph Cedar, Sony Pictures Classics: 2011, 103 minutes. Fort Da, 19(2):94-98.

(2013). Fort Da, 19(2):94-98

Reviews: Film Review Essay

Footnote: directed by Joseph Cedar, Sony Pictures Classics: 2011, 103 minutes

Review by:
Reviewed by Eric Essman, M.A.

Award competitions and ceremonies dramatize and glamorize the values and aspirations of individuals, institutions, nations, or cultures. What the drama and glamor hide, however, are the realpolitik, bureaucratic constraints, or personality conflicts that motivate the judges when achievement alone is insufficient guarantee of merit. The collective enjoyment associated with awards is tainted with envy, and public glory conceals and exacerbates private antagonisms, particularly when institutional judgments reflect the politics of the family.

The Oedipal battle in Footnote is scarcely sublimated in the contest between the rigor of traditional philology practiced by Eliezer Shkolnik and the apparent facileness of postmodern interdisciplinary studies practiced by Eliezer's son Uriel, an academic celebrity. Contending father and son are professors of Talmudic studies at the University of Jerusalem. Sophocles's Thebes is thereby resituated in fortress Israel, ubiquitously check-pointed with security stations.

The elder Shkolnik is himself a “fortress” (Uriel's term) of silent rage and resentment, embittered by decades of unrecognized labor dedicated to proving that a textual variant of the Jerusalem Talmud circulated in Renaissance Europe. Bunkered in the National Library, Eliezer scrolls through pages of Hebrew characters backlit in the glare of a microfiche reader (whose vertical and horizontal movements are often mimed in the shot sequencing of the film). At home he sits mute, cartoonish and remote, sequestered in the book-lined upstairs study, with his ears covered by bulbous headphones.

A bulwark of Eliezer's personality is exposed in the film's eponymous footnote, an obscure citation acknowledging Shkolnik by name in a classic work in Talmudic studies by a luminary in that field, the late Professor A.V. Feinstein.

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