Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Footnote (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Here is a film for all those who love their comedies to have an existential twist. I'm speaking of "Footnote", the Oscar nominated film by Joseph Cedar. The film is both madcap and meditative, not to mention fraught with folly and familial angst. "Footnote" is an odd sneak of a film, a bit like Kubrick and the Coen Brothers mashed together.

The film concerns a near genius researcher, Eliezer (Shlomo Bar Aba) who endlessly pores over The Talmud in search of its origins. Eliezer has spent his life in study. After some forty years, on the eve of finding  The Original Talmud, a rival professor beats him to it, and he is reduced to accepting a second rate mention in a old tome, in place of fame. Again and again, he is rejected by his peers for the coveted Israel Prize. Nevertheless, he takes a stern Gallows Humor in his non-status and takes the same route to the National Library each day. 

Bar Aba plays his part wonderfully. He is part Harvey Pekar (The late cartoonist from "American Splendor") and part Kafka. But, far from pity, he never gives up.

There are some wonderfully surreal touches here worthy of the work of Terry Gilliam, namely the stacks and stacks of paper that encroach around him wherever he goes creating a war zone of shredded paper and Talmudic symbology. There is also a crowded closet space that becomes a smoky beehive of interrogation with no room to move in. Not to mention the freestyle  Stomp band that arrives without warning. And finally, an awards conference that looks very much like a space station in "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Selfish urges and stubbornness are central to the film which are embodied in a bitter rival, Grossman (Micah Lewensohn) and Elizar's controlling son (Lior Ashkenazi). Nothing is as it seems; even Eliezer doubts the discipline in his son's writings and labels him as one of the young and phony ones.

Old Eliezer is constantly misunderstood accosted and semi-criminalized throughout the film. The placement and movement of books, a mistimed footstep or even a chance word might bring abandonment or even death. As Eliezer walks his unwavering  route he often sees a memorial sign for a scholar who was murdered on his walk. His family waft in and out of his study like rukhes and Eliezer scarcely speaks.

The motley score of the film that slips in subtle piano haunts as well as melodramatic crescendos is like a hybrid of Bernard Hermann and a circus calliope. As quirky as it is, the music sets just the right random, yet hyperactive tone. This eccentric score is a character by itself. 
If you are in the mood for a kooky tale of twice-tossed Talmuds and family unrest, altogether twisted, do not walk away from this film. Its mania never detracts from its meaning. "Footnote" contains a richness in character reminiscent of Isaac Bashevis Singer that merges with a gothicism akin to David Fincher's dark-tinted fonts and displaced emotion. There is a lot here to take in, and also, to take apart in any way you wish.

Write Ian at

No comments: