The story of a father and son bitterly competing in academia, "Footnote" may be a genre unto itself: The Talmudic studies comedy. Hilarious may not be the right word, but "Footnote" - nominated for this year's foreign-language Oscar -- is a droll, deadpan satire of the professional contempt and personal rancor that breeds in any narrow field.
"Footnote" sometimes feels like an Israeli cousin to Alexander Payne's "Election," with mockingly drawn but sympathetic characters slipping down ethical slopes. One is Professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba), whose painstaking taxonomy of sacred scraps has gone unnoticed for decades aside from a bottom-margin citation (hence the film's title) by a better-regarded scholar. The other is Eliezer's son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), whose more populist approach -- and more naked ambition -- has made him a rising star.
The story pivots on the Israeli Prize, a real award whose list of recipients include Golda Meir, Zubin Mehta and, unexpectedly, Eliezer. It's a long-awaited validation and a clear triumph over his academically frivolous son, though What Eliezer doesn't know is that it's actually a clerical error -- the prize was meant for Uriel.
What follows is an absurd and sometimes tense tug-of-war between truth, loyalty, revenge (Micah Lewesohn plays Eliezer's hard-charging old rival) and the unquenchable thirst for fame. Writer-director Joseph Cedar takes a wry, God's-eye view -- his frames often slide across the screen like microfiche -- but he also finds real drama in the broken bond between father and son. Though "Footnote" promises an explosive finale that never quite comes, it's a modest gem that deserves more than a brief mention.
PLOT An embittered Talmudic scholar watches his son rise to fame in the same field. RATING PG (mild language)
CAST Lior Ashkenazi, Shlomo Bar Aba, Micah Lewesohn
BOTTOM LINE An Israeli cousin to "Election" that slyly sends up professional ambition, ethics and jealousy.