At the New Zealand International Film Festival: Israeli academics and Norse mythology.
The idea of father-son rivalry is not a new one, but placing it in the context of two academic researchers working in the extremely narrow field of Talmudic ‘versions’ makes for an interesting premise. With Footnote, winner of the Best Screenplay at Cannes in May, Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar puts his hand to crafting a deadpan comedy based on the long embittered relationship between middle-aged academic Uriel Schkolnik (Lior Ashkenazi)—current Hebrew University golden boy—and his respected, yet officially unrecognised father Eliezer Schkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba), who has taught in the same department/subject for the last thirty years.
Footnote’s opening scene sets the tone for its key tension: Uriel is being admitted into a prestigious national research fellowship, but for the majority of the presentation time the camera is fixed upon an increasingly angry looking older man—Uriel’s father Eliezer. We soon find out that Eliezer has never been admitted to the ‘club’ and that this fact grates on him much more that he cares to admit. And so the story goes: one cannot be happy for the other as each only sees his lack and loss of place in their subconscious competition, rather than being able to appreciate the good for the other. Varying circumstances occur which put one of the two academic’s star in the ascendancy and changes the balance of power, and hence the level of happiness-to-bitterness in the relationship.
The co-leads handle their roles pretty well; convincing as a father son unit who have long-running, complicated ties that bind. Alisa Rosen does a great job of presenting as a woman tired of trying to bridge a gap between the two stubborn men closest to her. Tonally, however, Footnote has some issues, attempting to change genre and feel several times. The film begins firmly in the deadpan arena, but with scattered moments throughout of (almost) pure slapstick. For example, there is an office meeting scene which takes place in a dreadfully undersized office, leading to some amusing if thoroughly repetitive physical comedy involving people having to move around in the most awkward fashion in order for others to enter or leave the room. This is a scene more evocative of an Austin Powers film (the 27-point turn with the golf-cart in the corridor, anyone?), than, say, Whisky or 12:08 East Of Bucharest. Towards the end, Footnote seemingly attempts to morph into art house mode, replete with pseudo psycho-thriller dream sequences and an overwrought, loudly discordant score. The result is a clever film that doesn’t appear to know what it wants to be, or achieve; the whole experience, though interesting, feeling somewhat disjointed.
* * *
André Øvredal’s Troll Hunter, on the other hand, suffers no such confusion; it knows exactly what it is. The film is firmly entrenched in the B-monster-comedy genre, and persists with a mockumentary conceit to bookend its story of Norse mythology come true. Unfortunately, the filmmaking—dialogue, shooting, editing, and so on—just seems a little under par.
Trollhunter’s premise concerns a trio of University students engaged in the making of a research documentary about bear hunting, which leads them to a mysterious chap named Hans. A burly loner who is mistrusted by the other hunters, Hans proves infinitely more appealing to our amateur film crew—as a walking story to follow—than anyone else. As Hans stalks some kind of ‘mystery’ prey (note spoiler in the film’s title), these intrepid young idiots stalk him until he finally relents and agrees to let them film some of his escapades. Cue giant screaming trolls.
The trolls, as they turn out, are actually one of the better realised parts of this film—in many ways more believable and less abrasive than the protagonists. The trolls come in varying breeds and conform (to a degree) to the well-known mythologies as propagated by Tolkien and the like (smell terrible, have a keen sense of smell but not so good eyesight, turn to stone upon exposure to the UV light), and the crew have done a reasonable job in making them watchable onscreen entities. Appealing monsters notwithstanding, average dialogue and performances, coupled with a kind of nu-metal-pop score, limit the possible enjoyment even an avid monster movie follower might gain from such a film. (See Bong Joon-ho’s The Host to witness just how well made, nuanced, and thematically layered a monster film can be.) Still, it isn’t all bad. There are some funny and tense moments to be had, and as the titular trolls themselves are fairly decent—and they are the crux of the piece—Troll Hunter amounts to an okay, if not particularly special, night’s viewing for genre fans.