If you live in Australia and want to watch the new Israeli film Footnote – written and directed by Joseph Cedar – in the cinema, you must promptly run and not walk there.
This Israeli film was the Israeli nominee for the 2011 Academy Awards for “best foreign film” and made the final shortlist (losing out to the Iranian film A Separation). The film won “best screenplay” at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, nine of the “Israel Academy” awards (as well as nominated for three more).
The film revolves around a complicated relationship between two Talmud scholars who teach at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which I find very cool, as I attended that university briefly and worked for their local Australian outpost – the Australian Friends of the Hebrew University – for almost two years.
Footnote is hilarious, delightfully malicious and offers a biting satire of both academic life and the nature of modern Israel. An early scene at a cocktail party shows a number of academics discussing the feminine nature of how Jewish men are portrayed, complete with references to a “Boyarin” – a clever in-joke because there are two academic Boyarins – the brothers Daniel and Jonathan, both working in the same field of Jewish studies. A later scene of a meeting of the “Israel Prize Committee” takes place at the Ministry of Education in essentially a closet, where about eight people must get up and move each time someone enters the room. The metaphorical claustrophobia of both academia and Israeli life are neatly contrasted.
I loved Footnote, which is not quite an academic thriller – more of a family comedy-drama (or serio-comedy) set against the background of academia. According to Box Office Mojo, as of 23 April 2012, the film had grossed US$1,353,047 in the USA after six weeks of limited release, and was gradually expanding to 84 cinemas. In Australia, the box office is so low I can’t even find a record of it.
Here in Australia, in its second week of release Footnote is down to about seven screenings per day (in two cinemas) in Melbourne and three screenings per day (in two cinemas) in Sydney. It also is playing in one cinema each in Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra. I saw it on Wednesday 25 April at the Randwick Ritz in Sydney’s eastern suburbs with an appreciative audience approximately 40% full – although mostly a very old (age 70+ audience) and apparently European audience. Israeli films historically have rarely released in Australia, and when they do they tend not to last long in the cinema: Australia’s Jewish population is not that large (100,000 people and that’s counting lots of people who would prefer not to be counted).
If Footnote were an American “art” film with similar production values and the same sense of clever humour, the critics would be falling all over it. Mind you, many American critics are: A.O. Scott in The New York Times and David Denby in The New Yorker (“acidly entertaining”) both gave it very positive reviews. The film aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes currently has it as “91% positive”, which is a very high rating.
But even in this age of almost unlimited choice, Footnote is hard to see here – and will be even harder (at least legally; online piracy is a totally separate topic) once it leaves the handful of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra cinemas.
But the difficulty in watching a film has absolutely no connection to its quality. The world is like that sometimes. Compare Footnote to the latest American Pie: Reunion: I am sorry to report that I, who enjoyed all previous American Pie films released in cinemas, walked out of this last one. My excuse: I needed to grade some papers, a lot better use of my time than sitting watching that film. American Pie in three weeks of release has grossed AUS$13,428,159 here in Australia and is playing in 290 cinemas, with a higher “per cinema” average than The Hunger Games. Footnote, I am sorry to say – and this pun is truly intended – will be nothing but a footnote in the 2012 Australian theatrical box office, whereas American Pie will almost certainly be sitting in the top twenty for the year, and may even make the top ten. (For box office figures, go to Urban Cinefile website.)
Here are two different versions of the Footnote trailer: