Having won the best screenplay award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and also receiving one of the nine nominations for the 2012 best foreign language film Oscar this movie has a lot to live up to, and it does.
I saw this film on the same day as I saw Yellow Sea (see below) and on the face of it they are two very different films; one fast moving and the other sedate, one violent and the other academic but behind it all they both deal with a man searching for something that eludes him and dealing with the loss he faces. There’s also a certain parallel with Margin Call (see below also) but I’ll discuss that later.
The background to the film is one of personal and professional rivalries. Written and directed by Joseph Cedar (Beaufort 2007) the story unfolds within the academic world of the Hebrew University’s Talmud department. Professor Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is a published and respected philologist who 20 years ago was pipped to the post on the publication of a ground breaking piece of research by a rival who is now the chair of a prestigious national awards committee. The rivalry means that over the years Eliezer has been passed over for many awards and promotions. So much so that he has become an outspoken critic of the primary awards and those who have won them in recent years. To complicate matters his son is also a respected Talmud scholar and as of the opening of the film, a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences, another one of those honours denied his father.
Eliezer has a permanent grudge which everybody including his son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) must live with. It looks like all of the old wrongs are about to be undone when Eliezer is phoned by the Ministry of Education and told he has been awarded the Israel Prize for his work. Or has he? His son is called in to the Ministry to meet with some officials and a number of professors from the selection committee only to be told that he is to be awarded the Prize and not his father, there was a mistake which lead to his father been called. After much heated discussion Uriel agrees to a scheme which allows his father to receive the prize at his cost. This act of generousity is complicated by his father giving a very blunt interview to a newspaper which essentially rubbishes his son’s field of work. What follows is a comedy of errors which is further stepped up a notch when his father the philologist notices the wording in some documents is characteristic of his son’s writing and begins to put the pieces together.
I mentioned Margin Call earlier, both films are built around the personal, human interactions and relationships in a world which many of us would not readily identify with or have an affinity for. Like Margin Call this potentially off-putting background is overcome by an excellent script and some quite excellent delivery. Dreams denied, father/son tensions and professional jealousies are all nothing new to cinema but the subject matter is well packaged and delivered to the audience.
Rating 8/10, well worth seeing for its understated humour.