The Israel Prize is the highest national honor that the Jewish State has to offer. In the film Footnote, through the most simple and mundane of mistakes, the wrong man is told that he will receive the prize, and the right man is asked to tell him about it and thus break his heart. Making matters worse, the wrong man is the right man’s father. Both are Talmudic scholars, but of diametrically opposed philosophical viewpoints. The son searches for the glory of God and humanity in the mundane. The father disdains the workaday world and finds his struggle with God in the pure, rarefied air of books in the library. The son is deemed successful, the father only appreciated in the most private of circles.
Both because the film is in Hebrew with English subtitles and because its subject matter is scholarly people who live and die by words written and spoken, the first half-hour of the film is difficult to stay with, and it is easy to lose patience. But once the committee to determine the Israel Prize winner is gathered together in a closet-sized room, the film gets up and flies.
Intelligence, thoughtfulness, care, respect for history and Jewish Law come into play as the son struggles with his choice: take the prize nonetheless and break his father’s heart, or deny himself the prestigious prize. The conflict is both comic and, because it foretells huge complications, tragic. From the moment the son and the father politely, with all the intellectual effort, square off, the film is an emotional ride both rare and wonderful.
Footnote opens April 20 at the Landmark Downer Theatre.