Israeli director Joseph Cedar, whose film about the army withdrawal from southern Lebanon garnered an Oscar nomination, said he was looking inward with his current Cannes entry.

Footnote, one of 20 features vying for the Palme d’Or at the world’s biggest film festival, tells the story of a father-son pair of Talmudic scholars locked in a decades-long rivalry.

Set in the rarefied world of academia, the film is a far cry from the gritty realism of Beaufort, his 2007 soldier movie which captured the best director prize at the Berlin film festival and was shortlisted for an Academy Award.

Mr Cedar said the story of an embittered researcher who sees himself as a purist rejected by the establishment and his relationship with his ambitious son arose during time he spent with the Talmud department of Hebrew University.

“I met stubborn academics on an epic scale, people who had been working on an esoteric, obscure area of research for their entire life, afraid to complete it because there might be a mistake somewhere and as a result never publishing anything, and rivalries that had been going on for generations, that were violent and harsh, really beyond anything I had heard of,” he told reporters.

Shlomo Bar Aba, a well-known comedian in Israel who plays the curmudgeonly father, said it was refreshing to present an Israeli film to the world’s critics that did not directly address the Middle East conflict.

“It reflects how much we desire normality in our lives in Israel,” Mr Ashkenazi said, telling reporters that a member of his family was a Talmudic scholar killed in the Holocaust.

“We lack compassion in the place where we come from but we hope it will come back.”

A jury led by US actor Robert De Niro will award the Palme d’Or next Sunday.

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