Footnote: Interview with Director Joseph Cedar

“Footonte,” directed by Joseph Cedar, won a major award at the Cannes Film Fest and will also play at Toronto (September) and New York (October) Film Fests, before being released theatrically by Sony Classics.

Idea for Footnote

Josef Cedar: It is difficult for me to answer that question without spoiling the film and giving away a key plot element, because the initial idea this time was exactly that, a plot point that I thought would be interesting to develop.

It is remotely based on something that almost happened to me, and I enjoyed imagining how it would unfold if it did happen to me.  The finished film, however, turned out to be much more complex than that initial idea.  During the writing process, the focus shifted from the plot to an examination of these two characters.


I have used elements of the comedy genre (burlesque, visual/editing choices, sit com) that qualify the film as an intellectual comedy.  I like that the film may be considered a comedy, because it tells the audience that they can feel comfortable to laugh and smile and not necessarily take everything too seriously. But if we want to be formalists, strictly speaking, the film qualifies as a tragedy, as most father-son stories do.

Portrait of Generations

The film is both universal and particular about Israeli culture.  I have been thinking about the tension between the universal and the culturally specific for some time.  While I’m still not sure I know if a perfect balance can exist, because one does come at the expense of the other, I find that my own natural tendency is to work with extremely culturally specific material, and hope that people outside of my close circle will somehow recognize the human motivations.  This question also helps me articulate my feelings toward films I see, or books I read. When a story is too universal, I am either suspicious of it, or bored by it.

Choosing the Talmud


The Talmud department at the Hebrew University is a remarkable place. It is the smallest department in the university, but it is famous worldwide for its uncompromising methods and its unforgiving attitude toward the notion of “mistake.”  Once I started hearing stories from within the department about mythological rivalries between scholars, stubbornness on an epic scale, eccentric professors who live with an academic mission that is bigger than life itself, even if its topic is radically esoteric, I fell in love with them all, and they became the center of the story.


The films deals with the son’s sacrifice, but also with the father’s sacrifice.  I would rather not try to interpret these themes in the film, but I believe the word ‘sacrifice” can be very useful when discussing the nature of the father-son relationship.

The Movie’s Ending


The last 20 minutes of the film were treated more as a dance sequence than a dramatic scene. They were choreographed more than they were directed.  The emotions seemed too big, too contradicting, too terrifying to put into dialogue or into simple realistic human encounters.  The result is a subjective point of view of an event that from the outside seems festive and harmless, but from these characters’ perspective, from within their inner world, it is nothing less than apocalyptic.

Movie about Men

The women are in the shadow, but I will argue that the mother character, Yehudit, is a catalyst for the entire story and is very much in the dramatic spotlight of the film.  But it is true that this film is about two men, and in the service of dramatic focus, it is their perspective that is investigated in the film.

The Film’s Title

One Talmud researcher, who is known to be very sparse and dry in his writing, once explained to me his use of a footnote like this: ‘It is a piece of information, sometimes an anecdote, that is not necessarily verifiable, sometimes even outrageous, or silly, often only remotely relevant to the main text, but at the same time, it is just irresistible and juicy to leave out entirely.’

That is pretty much how I feel about this film. It’s a footnote.