*1/2 (out of four)
The Israeli drama “Footnote” was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars. Not only did it not deserve to win (the brilliant Iranian film “A Separation” took the prize) but it should have inspired, and won, a new category for Most Imposing Score.
Rarely have I heard music more oppressively pokey, playful and dramatic that so poorly matches with the images on screen. And not just because the subject appears so insular and dry. For decades, professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) has dreamt of receiving the prestigious Israel Prize for his Talmudic research. Instead, he’s passed over year after year, while his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) earns other academic accolades Eliezer never has. To say the guy’s bitter is an understatement; throughout “Footnote,” Eliezer’s facial expressions consist of “constipated” and “slightly less constipated.”
A complication emerges after Eliezer finally wins the big one, but writer-director Joseph Cedar ultimately skirts the biggest item of moral tension waiting to be resolved. A minor line of dialogue claims Eliezer is autistic, but the movie does nothing with this at all. Is that meant to for some reason alleviate the annoyance felt toward a main character whose life’s work seems to have been only in pursuit of awards, rather than the satisfaction of contributing to his faith? And that “Footnote” fails to identify what his findings have even done for anyone? If the movie’s just poking fun at these humorless, lonely pursuits, I seem to have missed the joke.
There’s plenty of merit in scholastic competition, and the Coen brothers’ extraordinary “A Serious Man” certainly showed how compelling and entertaining the inner-workings of Jewish study can be. Full of pity and devoid of impact (especially in a subplot about possible infidelity), “Footnote” chronicles a bitter, non-supportive pouter and a son who wants to do right by him anyway. Delete.
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