It's almost impossible to write about the Israeli movie Footnote without telling you the major crisis in the story, and the review that I read yesterday in the ODT gave it away, as does Roger Ebert in his review. The major crisis centres around a 'simple' mix-up of names - a father and son obviously both have the same surname, both are professors at the same University. That's probably all you need to know for me to write about this marvellous movie.
It swings between tongue-in-cheek humour and serious drama. The most wonderful scene takes place in an academic's tiny office, where half a dozen academics are squashed together around a table they really could have done without. They've called in the son to explain the details of the dilemma they're in, and the scene shifts from hilarious comedy to comedy so subtle you only just perceive it to a nasty confrontation. All within five minutes. There's one lady academic - it's her office, and she's being as pleasant as possible (she gets about one line in the whole scene); there are several ancient male academics, including the antagonist, whose forehead (often seen in close-up) is like a dried-up desert where once water ran: it's full of deep creases. To get into the office, with a chair, everyone has to move and pull the table back; in spite of this a physical fight briefly takes place as well.
The academic father, whose claim to fame is fairly insubstantial (he was pipped at the post by the antagonist many years ago), appears at the beginning in one of the most immobile shots you're likely to see - his son is droning on in the background telling a story that seems on the surface to reveal something of value between their relationship; in fact it's about as cruel as you can imagine. The son produces academic works of a popular nature and knows that he doesn't have the acclaim of his own father. Worse, he's passing on his anger to his own son, who's at that stage of life when he just doesn't know what to do with himself.
That all sounds fairly heavy, but the film is leavened by the subtle acting of the male leads and their seeming lack of self-awareness as regards each other. Or maybe they have too much awareness of each other and of themselves. That's one of the many questions the film raises. And the opening half hour includes several sequences in which the background to the story is revealed in a series of 'slides' with a narrator or text giving the information. These are the tongue-in-cheek sections, and they're accompanied (as are other parts of the movie) by a delightful score that stops and starts and plays with our ears while we catch up with the history.
However, there is one almighty shock in this film, and that's the ending. Just when we feel as though things might at least appear to begin to be sorted out, the movie stops. The credits roll, and roll, and there's just no more. The audience gasped when the credits began, realising that there probably wasn't going to be any more, and all of us, insistently, stayed on till the very end of the credits just in case there was a last minute reprieve. Nope. The film was done. It's up to you to discuss it with your spouse or friend or whoever and see how you think it all panned out given the information you now have.
Some reviewers have found the film too sour for their taste; some see as a serious piece that's undermined, or underlined, by comedy. I enjoyed it, though I really, really could have done with an ending...