Friday, March 02, 2012

Musing Pictures: Footnote

I was fortunate to catch a screening of Joseph Cedar's "Footnote" with the director in attendance. During the requisite Q&A, Mr. Cedar was asked a fantastic question about his process as a director to "liberate the story".

The question, Mr. Cedar's answer, and the film itself illustrate what for many people is a mysterious link between a script and what appears on the screen.

There's often a tension between what a filmmaker reads and what a filmmaker imagines. In many cases, there's even a tension between the filmmaker's imaginings and the resulting film. This was the first time I had heard the process of directing described as a liberation of narrative, but it makes a lot of sense.

Screenplays are very tightly formatted, carefully styled documents. Like blueprints, they are there to represent the details that are necessary for the construction of a film. Details that aren't necessary are usually excised from screenplays, but movies require all of those details to be present, or the film runs the risk of feeling "fake". When a director considers a script, he has to take this rigid, often very inflexible word-diagram and extrapolate from it not just the framework of a film, but all of the details that drape over that framework. For some, this is a literal process, requiring much creativity but little deviation from the words on the page. Joseph Cedar described a different approach, one that he discovered through his work on "Footnote".

In the academic world of Talmudic Scholarship which the film inhabits, text is (to some, literally) sacred. But text is also annotated heavily, to the extent that a page of a book might contain a few lines of that book, leaving most of the page for footnotes. In these footnotes, Mr. Cedar says, there's room to relax. Scholars can loosen up a little -- after all, it's not the text, it's just a footnote! Mr. Cedar used that in his film, creating cinematic "footnotes", short narrative sections that pause the story (literally, at one point) to digress, fill in some details and subtly editorialize. Mr. Cedar describes his "footnotes" as moments that gave him the freedom to "liberate the story", to take it off the page and turn it in to something more dynamic and visual than it had been. And these "footnote" moments are the parts of the movie that elevate it from being simply a good story to being a wonderful film.


(For a convenient list of Israeli films, visit

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