Monday, November 5, 2012

Footnote (A+)

With a masterful script, incredible acting, exhilarating direction, and an impeccable ability to blend hilarity with heartbreaking drama with the slightest of ease, I've already come to terms that director Joseph Cedar's study on the relationship between a passive aggressive talmudic professor and his competitive and egotistical father will most likely be my favorite film of the year. Having originally seen the feature back in early June, I have attempted to review it multiple times, only to give up, not believing that I had given a strong enough recommendation for those who would read it. Since then, I have re-watched the movie twice, and each time was able to pick up more insights, and further the reasoning as to why I have become so infatuated with the film. Upon my third viewing, I came to a conclusion: This gets closer to cinematic perfection than almost any other movie I've ever seen. It's the closest thing to a transcendent masterpiece to be released into theaters in years; and I honestly cannot remember another feature I've enjoyed, and had this much appreciation for, in a very long time.

The man who deserves the most credit for the creation of this dexterous experience is Israeli director and writer Joseph Cedar, who served as both director and screenwriter. Shot in a dynamic style to prove that this conflict between father and son is more of an earth shattering, destructive war of minds, than ordinary squabbling, Cedar uses intense music, visual cutaways, and dramatic cinematography to relay the viewpoints of his characters. He also excels in utilizing composer Amit Poznansky's zippy score to maximum effect: Knowing exactly when for it to be implemented into the background or foreground of a scene, and when to let the tension between characters dictate the mood. Another aspect of the film which Cedar does an excellent job with, is the blending of realism and surrealism. A perfect example of this, would be a scene in which the son (Lior Ashkenazi) meets with the Israel Prize Committee, led by a realistically unlikable Micah Lewensohn. However, rather than meet inside a typical office or boardroom, to keep the conversation as secret as possible, they resolve to talk in a comically tiny closet. It's a scene that not only embodies Cedar's ability to blend the surreal with the realistic, but also serves as an encapsulation of the film itself. In this approximately 10 minute scene, comedy combines with drama, in a way that's both oddly surreal, yet still believable. Last year at Cannes, this won the Award for Best Screenplay, and when remembering this scene, it's not at all difficult to determine why.

Another reason why this film is so successful, is because of the acting. While the ensemble is very good overall (especially Alisa Rosen as the father's long suffering spouse), Shlomo Bar Aba and Lior Ashkenazi are both incredible as the father and son respectively. Both play off each other perfectly; Bar Aba as an egotistical authoritative figure, and Ashkenazi as the passive aggressive pushover who only wants his long suffering father to have a small taste of happiness. It's an interesting dynamic that gradually changes as the film progresses, with Ashkenazi gaining more power over his father, but still choosing not to use it. These are two esteemed actors who were willing to put just as much effort into the feature as their director: Bar Aba made his triumphant return to acting after a 20 year retirement to focus on his standup career, and studied his character for six entire months. Meanwhile, Ashkenazi took Talmudic classes at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to gain a better understanding of his character, and let his beard grow for eight months; even before he was given the part for the film. These actors made a huge effort to allow themselves to give better performances, as they were now equipped to understand their characters on a deeper level, and ended up giving two of the best performances seen on the screen this year.

Footnote is a masterful exploration of the competitive and crumbling relationship between a father and son who work in the same limited field (talmudic studies). With skillful direction from Israeli director Joseph Cedar, combined with incredible acting from its two leads, this is, undoubtably, one of the best films of the year so far.

Grade: A+

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