Film Review: Itzhak

Itzhak film(TORONTO, ON) – Itzhak Perlman is a brilliant Israeli-American violinist whose talent transcended the crippling effects of polio and poverty in Tel Aviv to become the world’s most accomplished violinist. This man has won 16 Grammy awards.

The film documents Perlman’s life to date and flips back and forth between present and past in a non-linear fashion. His life is not handed to you in an orderly fashion, but jumps back and forth temporally to piece together the portrait of the man and artist.

In Israel he established himself as a world class violinist despite his crutches. A positive attitude and love of music helped him to escape the odds. He suffered for eight years in Tel Aviv under a nasty tutor who told him how to play and constantly blasted him for lack of ambition.

All that negative energy was then transferred to his parents who, in turn, blast him, leading to what Perlman described as a “triangle of terror.”

At 13, he was featured on the Ed Sullivan show in the United States and propelled into the upper echelons of music elitism. Living in poverty in New York, Pearlman was admitted into the prestigious Julliard School of Music where he met a caring teacher, Miss Delay, who kept asking him what he thought about his music.

Pearlman admitted that he hated her for this as he would rather be told what to do. In fact, he went so far to say he hated her, but now admits he has adopted her teaching techniques and recognizes her compassion and approach as a key components to his success.

There are some gaps which would be nice to be filled, particularly more detail as to his childhood. However, this is no lazy simplistic documentary as it keeps you on your toes and lulls any criticism with the incredible Perlman performing. He’s shown playing, not only classical pieces, but also Take Me Out to the Ballgame, at Citi Field in New York, and the American national anthem, as you have never heard it before, also at a New York Mets ball game.

As well, Pearlman performs a wild Klezmer piece to end the film. He is so versatile, he has even performed with Billy Joel.

I am unsure how one can cover the life of a brilliant violinist in 82 minutes, other than a clip here and there of Perlman with his family, teaching students, rehearsing, recording, receiving honours from politicians, performing with the greats, cooking and shopping at the Union Square Market in New York, and reflecting on his life.

Kudos to Perlman as we see him cooking soup with his friend and actor Alan Alda, who also had polio. They share the soup and a bottle of Syrah and some great conversation.

At Chabot we see his family arrive and celebrate with a bottle or two of particularly horrid and cheap Kosher wine. Momentarily I feel like shouting, “No! There are much better Kosher wines.”

I love the scene where he is receiving the Presidential Medal of Honour from Obama in 2015.

According to Perlman when it comes to a question of the violin, he is talking not about quality, but beauty and the violin as a replica of the soul.

If you claim to be indifferent to classical music I challenge you to listen to Perlman’s rendition of Violin Partita No. 2, by Bach, which was performed in Tel Aviv in 1971. You’ll hear it 15 minutes from the conclusion of the film. If you are not profoundly affected by it, you are a cold-hearted brute.

The documentary is a real teaser. You only get bits and pieces of the man.

Pearlman still is on tour and will be at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto on April 22.

(Itzhak, a film by Alison Chernick, 2017, USA-Israel, 82 minutes, Canadian release starting April 13 in Toronto and after that through selected theatres in Canada)

ITZHAK (Trailer) from filmswelike on Vimeo.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen