FOOTNOTE – Amit Poznansky

Original Review by Alan Rogers

Footnote follows the fierce rivalry between a father (Eliezer) and son (Uriel Shkolnik), both of whom are professors in the Talmud department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The son is obsessed with the acclaim generated by his work, always giving lectures and being inducted into prestigious science and humanities academies, whereas the father is a purist, set in his ways and a man who shuns what the academic establishment has become. Under this outward face though, the father has a secret yearning for recognition but he has to watch as his son receives all the plaudits he so desperately wanted during his career. But when a clerical error results in a moral dilemma for the son, the son has to decide what is more important – family or professional success. The film is, at its heart, a domestic drama that is handled by director Joseph Cedar in quite a comedic and unconventional way. The comedic style of the film is enhanced by first-time feature film composer Amit Poznansky who has provided the film with an orchestral score that is embellished with a variety of musical techniques that enhances both the comedic and dramatic aspects of the film and steers clear of any sentimentality.

The score itself is based around two or three themes that are associated with the father and son – though apparently the composer did not originally intend for these themes to be associated with any characters in particular. The opening track, “Footnote (Opening Titles)”, is a collage of fragments of the various themes and ideas heard later in the film. And it is in this first track that the score’s comedic mood (that will permeate throughout the film) is first heard. The following “Night Walk”, with its short woodwind fragments, pizzicato strings and various staccato figures, highlights the composer’s comedic but sarcastic melody that is the basis for most of the score (and is heard in numerous tracks on the album). Together, all these various elements do give a stop-start feel to the music, limiting any flowing movement within the score. As a consequence, the score does tend to have the properties of an expressive animated score that is tightly synchronised to the on-screen action. “Prof. Shkolnik’s Happiest Day” (parts 1 & 2) are a couple of good examples of this property. But it would be wrong to suggest that the score only has one style. “Eliezer Footnotes (Part 2)” and “Suspicion” feature a baroque-styled theme (strongly played on bassoon) that adds variety and an orchestral energy to the score. These tracks also allow both strings and brass to add drama to the mix, with the brass in particular giving a Shostakovich exuberance to the score.

Rhythm also plays an important role in Footnote. Heard as an insistent heartbeat-like rhythm in low woodwinds in “Eliezer Footnotes (Part 1)” it is somewhat surprising that rhythm – and ominous rhythm at that – is the backbone of the climax to the film. “Conclusion (Part 1)” – a highlight of the score – begins with a low pizzicato strings rhythm that acts as a frame for a cue that adds, bit-by-bit, various other rhythmic elements from various sections of the orchestra to build a disturbing and off-balance mood. It’s a sound that does seem out-of-place considering the subject matter of the film itself! And then, to top that, this is then immediately followed by Psycho-like swirling strings, staccato brass and shrilling flute punctuations (“Conclusion (Part 2)”)! Bizarre! The penultimate (“The Ceremony”) track then delivers a sequence of forceful piano chords played over a sustained low-level electronic tone before the piano mellows somewhat to a more reflective melody that itself takes on a forceful feel. Quite a challenging final 6-7 minutes. The final “bonus” track (“Waltzer”) features various renditions of ideas framed as a waltz and feels a bit like the producers couldn’t let the album end on such a downbeat tone (or perhaps it’s just the end titles!)

Poznansky, in interview, has stated that the film was temped by the works of Russian composer Alfred Schnittke and that this was a useful guide for understanding the direction the director was wanting to go in terms of the music. There is definitely in the score for Footnote examples of the imaginative use of various combinations of instruments that can be heard in Schnittke’s scores such as Sport, Sport, Sport and The Adventures of A Dentist (e.g., “Footnote (Opening Titles” and “Prof. Shkolnik’s Happiest Day (Part 1)”) as well as the dramatic use of strings and brass in scores such as The Commissar and The Story of An Unknown Actor (e.g., “Eliezer Footnotes (Part 2)” and “Suspicion”). Several film reviews have mentioned the presence of Poznansky’s music within the film, suggesting that it is boisterous, intrusive and seemingly out-of-step within the film itself. However, mention is also made that the score helps both to convey underlying emotions kept hidden by the main characters and to lighten the tempo of the script’s “methodical pace”. And it is these latter qualities of the score that are emphasised when the music is heard away from the film itself. The overriding comedic feel that pervades the music can be a bit overbearing even for an album that runs to just over 30 minutes in length, but Poznansky’s interesting orchestrations (additional orchestrations by Lionel Ziblat) as well as the enthusiastic playing from the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra showcases the various themes well and the end result is an impressive first feature score. Footnote is an album that is available both on CD and as a digital download and is recommended to anyone who has an interest in hearing something a bit different.

Rating: **½

  1. Footnote (Opening Titles) (1:20)
  2. Night Walk (1:40)
  3. Eliezer Footnotes (Part 1) (1:31)
  4. Eliezer Footnotes (Part 2) (2:20)
  5. Uriel Footnotes (2:12)
  6. Prof. Shkolnik’s Happiest Day (Part 1) (1:19)
  7. Prof. Shkolnik’s Happiest Day (Part 2) (2:41)
  8. Sharing (3:01)
  9. Post Committee (2:10)
  10. Suspicion (2:01)
  11. Conclusion (Part 1) (3:13)
  12. Conclusion (Part 2) (0:59)
  13. The Ceremony (3:00)
  14. Waltzer (4:12)

Running Time: 31:45

Editions Milan Music (2011)

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