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Originally published Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

Academic and family rivalry meet in dark but also jaunty 'Footnote'

"Footnote," directed by Joseph Cedar and starring Shlomo Bar Aba and Lior Ashkenazi, tells the story of a Talmudic scholar whose career appears to be eclipsed by his son's. "At its darkly comedic heart," writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald, it is a story of jealousy and rivalry but also maintains a jaunty pace. "Footnote" is playing at Seattle's Guild 45th.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Footnote,' with Shlomo Bar Aba, Lior Ashkenazi, Alisa Rosen, Alma Zak, Daniel Markovich, Micah Lewesohn. Written and directed by Joseph Cedar. 105 minutes. In Hebrew with English subtitles. Rated PG for thematic elements, brief nudity, language and smoking. Guild 45th.

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"Footnote," Joseph Cedar's Oscar-nominated comedy from Israel, begins and ends with the same sight: a close-up on the face of a man (Shlomo Bar Aba) silently struggling with his emotions. The man is Eliezer Shkolnik, a professor of Talmudic Studies, who in the opening scenes is watching a ceremony in which his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), also a Talmudic scholar, is named to an honorary academy to which Eliezer does not belong. "Why isn't Grandpa a member of the academy?" Uriel's son asks, as the extended family rides home. The question is followed by silence, the uncomfortable kind.

At its darkly comedic heart, "Footnote" is a story of jealousy and rivalry, of what can happen when a son follows in his father's footsteps and makes those footsteps bigger, or at least easier to walk in. Eliezer, shown to us as a man of well-worn habits, is a purist who is unpopular with fellow academics for his unfashionable ideas, while the more well-liked Uriel is seen as a rising star in the field. We see on Eliezer's face, as he watches the ceremony in the opening scene, that he's not entirely happy for his son. He's not quite ready to celebrate — he can barely bring himself to rise, belatedly, for a standing ovation — because Eliezer thinks the academy should have recognized the father before the son. As the film progresses, something happens that would seem to readdress the balance and put Eliezer on top; but, in life as in scholarship, things aren't always what they seem.

Though the film deals with some dark emotions, Cedar keeps "Footnote" jaunty by adding wildly dramatic music (a stirring orchestral score by Amit Poznansky), playful headlines and visual antics; at times, the film seems to turn into a microfiche machine, with the story's sections divided by frames thumping past us as if propelled by a researcher, eyes scanning. And it's filled with well-staged comic business: Uriel coping with having his clothing stolen at the gym; a meeting of academics in a room so absurdly small you think of the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera" stateroom. But in its final section, comedy is mostly left behind in order to focus on a character we've grown fond of, despite his excesses: Eliezer, in close-up again as he waits, anxious and solemn, for a moment both longed-for and dreaded. Like father, like son — perhaps.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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