“I’ve been seeing all these movies I think are going to be funny, and they’re not,” quoth The Boy in the lobby after Footnote, the Israeli film about a competitive father and son who are Talmudic scholars, and who face a crisis when the father is informed he has received an award that was actually meant for the son.
OK, that’s probably my fault, but hear me out: The trailers look whimsical. They use a lot of pizzicato, which is the universal sign of cartoon whimsy.
Well, I guess not universal, apparently stopping at the West Bank.
Like the many other Israeli films we’ve seen lately, Footnote draws strong characters and sets them in motion against each other, like American movies used to in the ‘30s and ’40s. The movie opens with the son receiving an award, but the camera is on the father. He’s despondent, sluggish, unhappy, even as his son relates a story meant to flatter him.
We subsequently learn the true story is much less flattering than the way the son makes it out.
When the father is called and told he has won the Israel prize, he changes. Comes alive. His life’s work (thwarted by a twist of fate) has not gone unrecognized. So when the son finds out the truth, he can’t bring himself to let the father find out.
And while it is funny in parts, and oddly so sometimes (as when the son is discussing the matter with the prize committee in a room that doesn’t really fit them all), this is a movie about what’s true versus what’s nice, and ultimately what is right.
Which, at least in this movie, is kind of a heavy topic.
The Boy liked it all right; I liked it more but I wasn’t expecting an out-and-out comedy (and I’m pretty good about adapting to cinematic shifts in tone). I guess father/son competition is common, but I assured The Boy that he could exceed me in every fashion and I would be pleased. (Not that he could. *kaff*)
Anyway, I really did like this movie and the whole question of truth versus nice versus ethics was well done. (I think if I were going to take a message it would be that we should favor true over nice because nice may lead to very many not nice things whereas truth, however difficult, is at least simple.)
But I think writer/director Joseph Cedar (Beaufort) copped out at the end. There’s a point where all the main characters have figured out exactly what has gone on, and the movie…just ends. I mean, I get that. There’s a danger of getting cheesy, or melodramatic, or…well, there’s just a lot of pitfalls.
What we got instead was no resolution, which if one follows the implication through, suggest that everyone has sold themselves out and just left things as they were forever after.
So…no. Didn’t like the ending. Felt we deserved to see the characters handle their situations. But otherwise, I’d give this a thumbs up.
Nominated for the foreign language movie Oscar.