×

Film Review: ‘Itzhak’

An affectionate documentary portrait of the world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Director:
Alison Chernick
With:
Itzhak Perlman, Toby Perlman, Alan Alda, Amnon Weinstein, Stefan Valcuha, Billy Joel, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman, Evgeny Kissin, the Klezmatics. (English, Hebrew dialogue.)

1 hour 23 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6186232/reference

Good music and good company make “Itzhak” a pleasure, though those seeking a methodical career overview should look elsewhere than this genial personality sketch of the world-famous violinist. Alison Chernick’s documentary captures the Manhattan-dwelling subject at home and on tour around the globe, hobnobbing with classical colleagues as well as the likes of close friend Alan Alda and former POTUS Obama. It’s a portrait custom-made for public television (and duly co-produced by PBS’ American Masters), though one that would also appeal to a select audience in limited theatrical exposure.

Itzhak Perlman was born in 1945 Tel Aviv to Polish émigré parents who were non-musical, though they quickly sussed their prodigy son’s talent. Others did not, if only because they thought he couldn’t get far on the leg braces that polio forced on him at age 4 — never mind that the violin is not customarily played with one’s feet. Nonetheless, at 13 he was both enrolled at Juilliard and making his first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” (duly reprised here).

We get just glimpses of his meteoric subsequent rise in archival performance and interview clips. Instead, Chernick’s main focus is on the subject’s everyday life as he enters his eighth decade — even if this particular “everyday life” might entail eating Chinese takeout with other living classical-music legends, accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom, jetting to Jerusalem (for another prize), backing up Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden or playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to open a Mets game. Admittedly, there are also less exalted moments, when we see him rehearsing with an orchestra or in the recording studio, teaching music students (at Juilliard and the Perlman Program summer camp) and negotiating wintertime NYC sidewalks in his wheelchair-scooter.

Perlman is a garrulous personality who seems comfortable in almost any setting. Yet he appears to take a conversational back seat around wife Toby, who’s also a violinist (though “not a particularly exciting one” by comparison, she admits) and a perfect soul mate in seemingly every additional respect. Their busy, curious, affectionately meddling dynamic sets the general tone here, making much of “Itzhak” play like an invitation to spend the weekend with a family of acquaintances who just happen to include one international celebrity (plus their occasional celebrity pals, like dinner guest Alda). It’s intimate enough that we grasp how important Jewish identity, culture and ritual is in their lives, and casual enough that such matters never require formal “talking head” explanation. There’s also time to dwell on the fascinations of the violin as physical object, whether visiting an instrument dealer in Tel Aviv or having Perlman’s favored Stradivarius looked over by a repairer before a tour.

The strains of Bach, Vivaldi, Schubert, Strauss, et al., weave through the film, albeit in a fashion more incidental than focused — this is not the kind of documentary in which Perlman would be drilled about his approaches or attitudes toward individual composers. Instead, it’s the kind where he might reasonably enough be last seen playing with nontraditional klezmer band the Klezmatics, a circumstance for which by then no explanation is required.

Chernick has primarily dealt with visual artists (Jeff Koons, Matthew Barney, Steve McQueen) in her documentaries but seems quite at home exploring this different creative milieu. Helen Yum’s editing weaves a seemingly free-form progress into a briskly entertaining package, while the several cinematographers credited lean toward warm earth tones reminiscent of certain Woody Allen movies, or the fine wood grain of a violin itself.

Film Review: 'Itzhak'

Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival (True Stories), Jan. 9, 2018. (Also in Hamptons, Doc NYC festivals.) Running time: 83 MIN.

Production: (Docu) A Voyeur Films and American Masters Pictures production. (International sales: Roco Films, Sausalito, California.) Producer: Alison Chernick. Executive producers: Michael Kantor, Penny Lieberman.

Crew: Director: Alison Chernick. Camera (color, HD): Daniel Kedem, Christopher Gallo, Mikko Timonen, Chris Dapkins. Editor: Helen Yum.

With: Itzhak Perlman, Toby Perlman, Alan Alda, Amnon Weinstein, Stefan Valcuha, Billy Joel, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman, Evgeny Kissin, the Klezmatics. (English, Hebrew dialogue.)

More Film

  • Fyre Festival Caterer Receives Thousands in

    Unpaid Fyre Festival Caterer Raises Thousands in Donations on GoFundMe

    As two Fyre Festival documentaries hit the airwaves, a couple who say their credit was ruined due to the Fyre Festival’s lack of payment for their services have raised $54,381 at time of publication on GoFundMe. Elvis and Maryann Rolle wrote on their page that they catered “no less than 1000 meals per day” in [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Author Tony Mendez arrives at the

    Tony Mendez, Former CIA Officer Depicted in 'Argo,' Dies at 78

    Tony Mendez, the former CIA technical operations officer who orchestrated the 1980 rescue of six American diplomats from Iran and who was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the Academy Award winning film “Argo,” has died. He was 78. Mendez’s book agent, Christy Fletcher, announced the news on Twitter Saturday morning. “Early this morning, Antonio (Tony) [...]

  • Glass Movie

    'Glass' to Rank in Top 3 MLK Debuts With $48 Million

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” is on its way to a solid debut with an estimated $48 million for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. A sequel to 2000’s “Unbreakable” and 2017’s “Split,” the Universal superhero thriller should bring in around $41 million from 3,841 domestic locations over the Friday through Sunday period. The estimates are [...]

  • China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to

    China's 'Three Adventures of Brooke' to Hit French Theaters (EXCLUSIVE)

    Midnight Blur Films has signed a deal with French distributor Les Acacias to release Chinese arthouse drama “Three Adventures of Brooke” in France this year, the Chinese production company told Variety on Saturday. A release date has yet to be set for the film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival and stars Chinese newcomer Xu Fangyi [...]

  • Noe Debre On His Directorial Debut,

    Top French Screenwriter Noe Debre Makes Directorial Debut, ‘The Seventh Continent’

    This last half-decade, few French screenwriters have run up such an illustrious list of co-write credits as Noé Debré. Thomas Bedigain’s writing partner on Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “Deephan,” Debra co-penned Bedigain’s own debut, “The Cowboys,” “Racer and the Jailbird,” by Michael Roskam, and “Le Brio,” directed by Yvan Attal. He has now [...]

  • Julien Trauman Talks Survival-Thriller Short ‘At

    Julien Trauman on Survival-Thriller Short ‘At Dawn’

    France’s Julien Trauman has never been afraid to play with genre, and in his latest short, the MyFrenchFilmFestival participant “At Dawn,” he employs aspects of psychological thriller, survival, coming-of-age and fantasy filmmaking. “At Dawn” kicks off the night before when a group of teens, one about to leave town, are imbibing heavily around a beach-side [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content