The Israeli entry in the 2011 Foreign Language Film category and one of the ultimate nominees. It has a great premise: father and son, Eliezer and Uriel Shkolnik, are Talmudic scholars and professors. Eliezer, after years of being passed over for the prestigious Jerusalem Prize due to a rival being on the nominating committee, gets a call telling him he has finally won the award. Then Uriel is called into a committee hearing and informed that it was all a clerical error; Uriel was suppose to win the prize, but the wrong person was called. Can you say “oy vey”? The two central characters are not particularly likeable: Eliezer (Shlomo Bar-Aba) is a pompous egotist, dismissive of his son’s work and has trouble relating to people. At one point, he’s described as autistic; that’s an exaggeration to make a point, of course, but there is something of the savant about him, an eidetic memory coupled with the difficulty of looking anybody in the face (the eidetic memory is important and comes into play during a breathtaking scene when a chance word is overheard and Eliezer starts making all sorts of connections that lead him to realize that his son was suppose to be the true recipient—a scene that rivals David Hemmings enlarging photographs in Blow Up or Gene Hackman putting two and two together in The Conversation). Meanwhile, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) is a chauvinist with anger management problems. In addition, the whole thing is about a rivalry in Talmudic studies, something I’m sure every single audience member can immediately identify with. But in spite of all that, I did find myself completely caught up in the melodramatic conflicts between all the characters involved. The problem with the film and the reason it doesn’t quite work as well as it might, is structural and aesthetic. It takes forever to get the damn thing going (in technical terms, screenwriters call this waiting too long for the inciting incident). Much of the first part is filled with clever directorial flourishes that probably seemed great in the mind of the filmmaker, but on screen, tend to get in the way and bog things down, as if the director didn’t have faith in the story itself (odd, since Joseph Cedar is both writer and director). Whenever the screenplay focuses directly on the conflict, when it’s more one on one with people verbally going for each other’s jugulars (and the acting is excellent), it’s very strong, full of rich and fun irony, of people knowing something that the other person doesn’t know, and then the other person knowing something that the other person doesn’t know he knows, etc., etc.

So tell me what you think.

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