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Itzhak (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 11, 2020


ITZHAK (2017)

Featuring Itzhak Perlman, Toby Perlman, Alan Alda, Amnon Weinstein, Stefan Valcuha, Billy Joel, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman, Evgeny Kissin, Mischa Maiskey, Martha Argerich, Barack Obama, Dorothy Delay and the Klezmatics.

Directed by Alison Chernick.

Distributed by American Masters Pictures. 83 minutes. Not Rated.

It’s 6:00 a.m. and I’ve been moved to tears by a gracefully-constructed film and its maestro violinist, Itzhak Perlman.

Itzhak is a film of love and beauty; of art and its human struggle. It centers on the buoyant Itzhak Perlman and his wife, Toby – their relationship to each other, their Jewish culture and history, commitment to teaching, and appreciation of their lives.

Historically, although the mom of a symphonic percussionist, I am not in love with the violin. There are always so many of them performing and they are always in the way of me seeing my petite teen while she plays. Having said this, there is something haunting and beautiful about a well-played violin solo and there is no better soloist then the legendary Itzhak Perlman.

I’ve never had the opportunity to hear Perlman perform in person but feel like this film truly captures his spirit. To watch this master perform is a work of art in itself. He doesn’t fit the mold of a master violinist. Perlman is squishy and goofy, focused yet fun. He does not perform or travel on the Jewish Sabbath and spends his Shabbat with his family. He has dedicated his life to not only performing, but to teaching, finding that teaching has made him the performer that he is today because as a teacher, he is listening at a different level.

Itzhak has all of the touch points that I have come to expect in a biographical documentary: history, struggles, and accolades. The film has the added bonus of an incredible soundtrack made up of its subject’s own performances, and the joy of a man who has known struggle and overcome.

It touches on Perlman’s history. His childhood in Israel. His debut on The Ed Sullivan Show at age 13. His 1963 Carnegie Hall debut at age 18. While there is not much discussion about his battle with polio as a child, his battle with accessibility is present in his everyday living. He has become a staunch soldier in the fight for accessibility in the arts, even focusing the attention of his 2016 Genesis award into improving this access.

In a scene showing a collaboration with Billy Joel, he softly pushes for a moment of extra solo just prior to an iconic Joel song, because, well, if he isn’t featured a little, what’s the point? While that may sound a bit pretentious, it’s surprisingly not. Perlman is at this level of the musical gods and the push plays out beautifully.

Itzhak is a film for supporters of the arts – culture, performance and education. Film buffs will recognize and appreciate the transition to Perlman’s playing for the theme song in Schindler’s List; history buffs will appreciate the discussion on the prevalence of violins during the Holocaust. Audiences looking for a film with an overwhelming appreciation for life will find what they are looking for in Itzhak.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: April 20, 2018.

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