The Footnote

Just saw a brilliant film which links the academic rivalry of two Talmudic scholars to questions about contemporary Israeli national identity. The Footnote was a Best Foreign Film, Academy Award Nominee and winner of Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It portrays a father who has been passed over for the Israel Prize, which had been awarded to his son. Through an erroneous twist of fate the son decides to give up his prize, but fails to conceal his sacrifice from the philological prowess of his father. At the heart of the rivalry between them are a series of inside hermeneutic jokes, biting depictions of academic culture, and subtle reminders about the political romanticism which underwrites the quest to reconstruct the Talmud (and other sacred scripture). It's a clever and touching film, but a particular must see for scholars of ancient near eastern literature and Israeli nationalism alike. One of the most poignant quotes from the film comes from a scene where the son, Prof. Uriel Schkolnik begs the chair of the prize committee to let his father receive the award:

Yehuda Grossman: Uriel, there is no greater betrayal of your father and his principles than what you are asking of me.  In spite of all my criticism of him your father never validated a mistake because it was convenient. You know that.
Uriel Shkolnik: Yes, but he won't.
Yehuda: We will.
Uriel: So what? So what?
Yehuda: It turns the whole system into a circus.
Uriel: No. It means that there are things more important than the truth.
Yehuda: Like what? Family? Like your father, I do know something about cutting corners... about abandoning the truth.
Uriel: Enough! Enough with this truth! So much aggression and violence you hide under the word 'truth'? I don't believe in this romanticism. You don't seek the truth. You seek honours just like other mortals. Such a terrible thing you're doing in the name of truth. It's just a prize. A prize, that's all. It's not a betrayal of anything.It's just a small nice thing you can do for a colleague, if only you'd be a little flexible. Just a tiny bit. That's all I ask of you. That's all.

The Footnote (He'arat Shulayim), 2011, Dir. Joseph Cedar (Interestingly, the Hebrew root, shul of the title He'arat Shulayim, can refer both to the seams on the robes of a priest, as well as to the flabby nether regions of the body; a further cut, it seems to me, at the 'power' of scholarship, HALOT, pg. 1442).

timothywstanley@me.com