Israeli film-maker Cedar, master of moral anguish

22nd May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Israeli director Joseph Cedar, who clinched the best screenplay prize at Cannes on Sunday, sought to tell a more intimate story from his troubled country with his fourth film "Footnote".

Born in New York on August 31, 1968, Cedar grew up in Jerusalem where his family moved when he was six.

He studied philosophy and theatre history at Hebrew University, where "Footnote" is set, before following his love of cinema to New York University's legendary film school, the alma mater of Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee.

After winning an Oscar nomination for his 2007 film "Beaufort" about the Israeli army's withdrawal from southern Lebanon and its impact, Cedar said he was interested in turning the camera on another world entirely in "Footnote".

The drama, which is peppered with comic moments, tells the story of a father-son pair of Talmudic scholars, Uriel and Eliezer Shkolnik, who have been locked in a decades-long rivalry.

The father, Eliezer, played by well-known comedian Shlomo Bar Aba, is an embittered scholar who sees himself as a purist rejected by the establishment.

The film spotlights his difficult relationship with his ambitious son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi) when there is a fateful mix-up over the awarding of a coveted academic prize.

An observant Jew, Cedar told reporters in Cannes he had observed the Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University and was struck by the human dramas behind their rarefied areas of research.

Critics hailed his ability to make gripping cinema out of potentially arid material, with inspired shots of microfiche archives filling the screen.

Israeli's tense security situation remains only a backdrop, with the tweedy professors facing airport-style checks every time they enter the campus.

A fierce and nuanced debate in a claustrophobic office conference room between Uriel and his father's nemesis about an agonising moral choice drew particular praise.

Cedar found success from the start as a director, with both of his first features "Time of Favor" and "Campfire" becoming box office hits in Israel and official selections for the foreign-language category at the Oscars.

"Beaufort", rooted in Cedar's own experiences as an army recruit in Lebanon, captured the best director prize at the Berlin film festival and was shortlisted for an Academy Award -- the first time Israel was among the finalists for more than 20 years.

© 2011 AFP

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