‘Golden Voices’: Russian Expats in Israel Put Their Vocal Talents to Unexpected Use

The challenge of starting life anew in an unfamiliar country receives a poignant spin in this well-acted Israeli dramedy.

Golden Voices
Courtesy of Music Box Films

As the pandemic continues to catalyze major life changes, motivating — or necessitating — many to make a new start, a film such as “Golden Voices” resonates even more deeply. This neatly observed, rueful Israeli dramedy from Soviet expats Evgeny Ruman (helmer, co-writer and editor) and experienced DP Ziv Berkovich (marking his first time as a screenwriter) centers on a sixty-something married couple, long-time film dubbers from Moscow, who make aliyah to the holy land in 1990, part of a wave of Soviet outsiders who struggle to assimilate and find a new way to earn a living. With its committed performances and considerable humor, this mostly Russian-language Music Box Films release appeals to an older demographic and has been doing decent art-house business.

Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, Soviet Jews are finally allowed to leave the USSR. Most immigrate to Israel, among them Victor (Vladimir Friedman) and his wife Raya (Maria Belkin). With their Russian film studio now privatized and younger talent hired, their life would be different anyhow, but in Israel the pair known as “the Golden Voices” must start from scratch.

The mass immigration of Soviets to Israel creates a few opportunities for those with superb Russian vocal skills, but how to tap into them? Victor is thrilled to voice a public service announcement for Russian radio about what to do if Saddam Hussein should drop chemical weapons, but when he asks for payment, he’s told that he should be pleased to be of service to his new country. Raya, however, has better luck answering a help wanted ad seeking women with “pleasant voices.” She finds herself working evenings, catering to the lonely Russian community as a phone-sex operator for surprisingly good wages.

As Raya becomes more comfortable in her new career, the increasingly disgruntled Victor falls in with a band of VHS film pirates, who secretly and amateurishly videotape current releases off the big screen and ask for his dubbing skills at a cut rate. While the new immigrants can’t afford theater tickets, they patronize black-market video stores in droves.

In the press kit, scribes Ruman and Berkovich recall that as youngsters with imperfect Hebrew, their love and knowledge of cinema grew from access to Russian-dubbed pirate tapes. They affectionately pay tribute to the art of dubbing via Victor’s explanation of why it is important that it be professional. He believes, “Each movie is like an entire world and we enable people to enter those worlds.”

Meanwhile, Raya is creating a different sort of world for her clients. As she becomes more tuned in to desire and physicality, it becomes apparent to her (and viewers), how much she has sacrificed for the boorish, bossy Victor who won’t even bestir himself to dance during an evening out, although she pleads with him.

Belkin (also known as Mariya Belkina) and Friedman, both Russia-born, give affecting performances that bravely and subtly acknowledge the slights and humiliations of their new life and disintegrating marriage, boosting the film’s emotional impact. The authenticity of their portrayals feels as if it must come from their own lived experience as well as that of the screenwriters’ parents and their generation.

Berkovich’s Cinemascope lensing intimately frames the protagonists in their drab new environment while the art direction by Sandra Gutman captures all that is seedy, ugly and decaying about it, from their apartment, to the black-market video store and Raya’s no-frills call center. The aptly used score by Asher Goldschmidt alternates with pre-existing melancholy Russian songs.

‘Golden Voices’: Russian Expats in Israel Put Their Vocal Talents to Unexpected Use

Reviewed online, Oct. 28, 2021.  Running time: 88 MIN. (Original title: ‘Kolot reka’)

  • Production: (Israel) A Music Box Films release of a United Channels Movies, Evanstone Films production with the support of Israel Film Fund, The Ministry of Culture and Sport, The Israeli Film Council. (World sales: Intramovies, Rome.) Producers: Avarham Pirchi, Chilik Michaeli, Tami Leon, Eitan Evan, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery.
  • Crew: Director: Evgeny Ruman. Screenwriters: Evgeny Ruman, Ziv Berkovich. Camera: Berkovich. Editor: Ruman. Music: Asher Goldschmidt.
  • With: Vladimir Friedman, Maria Belkin, Evelin Hagoel, Uri Klauzner, Vitali Voskoboinikov, Nadia Kucher, Alexander Senderovich. (Russian, Hebrew dialogue)