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Writing Footnote

Director Joseph Cedar on Orthodox Judaism, The Social Network, and the nightmare scenario behind his latest Academy Award-nominated film

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Joseph Cedar, director of the Oscar-nominated film Footnote. (Ren Mendelson, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

How would you characterize Eliezer’s marriage?

His wife is afraid of him. They don’t really have a relationship. Once he thinks he gets the award, things become softer. She’s so trapped with the information she hasone of the best things that happens in her life is based on a mistake. He has problems, this man. He’s not easy to live with. But everyone becomes a little softer when they feel their self-worth is confirmed. He doesn’t turn into Robin Williams, but he becomes a little easier.

Why did you set Footnote in the Talmud department of Hebrew University?

The Talmud department is an extreme version of other departments. I like the tension that exists there. No one compromises anything for anything. I spent a few months meeting a Talmud professor regularly once a week, going over different issues that exist in the department, generational conflicts, the history of the department, and in the field of Talmud study. One of the questions that interests me is whether the Talmud was edited after it was a written text or on oral deliverance? In other words, when was it first written down, before or after it was edited? The written word is inflexible, while oral tradition allows for a lot of flexibility. When we lost the flexibility is a question that is important to me in my life. I feel closer to the oral world than the written world.

How would you define yourself Jewishly?

I belong to a community that observes. But I asked the New York Times’ publicist to take out a sentence that described me on a blog as an Orthodox Jew and pro-Zionist because I don’t define myself that way. I don’t want to be labeled with those three wordsOrthodoxy has some positive connotations but many negative ones. It stands for many things I oppose in an active way. I do wear a kippah most of the time and find some consistency to the times I wear itI do so publicly, and privately I won’t. I’ve shaped my observance to my lifestyle.

Who are some directors you admire, either in America or elsewhere?

American cinema has not been very impressive in the last couple of years. There’s a Hollywood I admire but it’s not the Hollywood of today. I loved The Artist. … The Social Network is the sort of movie I want Hollywood to create: It’s smart, well-made, with real Hollywood charisma. It has a good story, great writing and actingtells something that’s so much bigger than what’s in-between. I’m really interested in Paul Thomas Anderson. Boogie Nights is one of the most complete films that exists. It has what a great film needs to have.

How would you like people to be affected by your film?

I’m happy if they go into the film. The way they leave is their problem.

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A correction for your opening paragraph. Waltz With Bashir is a depiction of the 1982 Lebanon War, while Beaufort is a depiction of the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.

Matthew Fishbane says:

Thanks for the watchful eye, Ron. The piece has been corrected.

Cedar sounds like a fascinating man. I would give my eye teeth to meet him next time we’re in Tel Aviv.
Bryna Weiss

Huh? Wears a kippah publicly and lives in Israel as a child of American olim but does not define himself as Orthodox or Zionist. Whatever. I have enjoyed his moveis tremendously, but that is a ridiculous statement. He may not define himslef as such, but if it walks like a duck…

Bucky; the question is what kind of duck. Cedar’s point is well taken . I know many ‘observant’ Conservative and non-denominational Jews who fit that description. You need to find a bigger pond to swim in. Contemporary Orthodoxy does not own traditional judaism.

Elaine- says:

it’s odd, he admits that it’s a nightmare of his, but how does he even conceive of it? he says he’s happy if we go see it and how we leave is our problem? well most of the world isn’t getting it; a son trying to take on the father he loves and sees as a hero’s pain, to become him, so he doesn’t have to hurt. and nobody sees the father who is KNOWINGLY detroying his son at every possible turn, how does he conceive of such evil if he hasn’t lived it? and how is he so callous in the end to those of us that have lived it? well, sure, he made the movie in such a way that people could be blind to what he was saying, i can see that he is calling fools fools, but don’t be just another person who hurts people who are living that kind of life, admidst that kind of evil… just trying to get a kind word, and at the end of this article, he stabs us all in the heart. why? to say that it didn’t destroy you? to say that you are strong and fine and now YOU do the hurting? i don’t respect that, there is no need to hide, you revealed yourself for all who care to look and it’s not JUST our problem if we see.

Elaine- says:

ok, you know what? i get it, i’m sorry.. i was trying to explain the movie to my husband and why it was upsetting me, and he fell asleep while i was talking… so in a way, i can see why the guy is being a big dick about it, so he can say that he’s smarter than the people who are listening, so that… the people who are listening don’t fall asleep while he’s telling this thing, so that he can hide, that the whole will nosh on his heart if he doesn’t hide it… it’s like that book ‘IT’ by stephen king… this evil that everybody pretends isn’t in them, that everybody pretends not to see… i’m ok with it, see the movie, it’s good, feel free to not see ‘it’.. but i have to choose, everyday, if the world is ‘eat or be eaten’ that i choose to be eaten, because i don’t like the eaters, and that’s that. and i have to hide it too, or i would be dead already. so sorry for the previous comment.

Elaine- says:

and it’s just a nightmare of mine, not how i feel, i’m glad if you read my comments, but how you interpret them is your problem


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Writing Footnote

Director Joseph Cedar on Orthodox Judaism, The Social Network, and the nightmare scenario behind his latest Academy Award-nominated film

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