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ReelBob: ‘Itzhak’ ★★★★★

by on May 2, 2018
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By Bob Bloom

You can’t call yourself a music lover if you don’t embrace “Itzhak.”

And you don’t need to be a devotee of classical music to enjoy this documentary that looks at the life of world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman.

Perlman was born in what was then British-mandated Palestine in 1945. His parents were Jews, who emigrated from Poland to Palestine in the mid-1930s.

Perlman contracted polio when he was 4 years old, but, as director Alison Chernick’s engaging film shows, Perlman never allowed the affliction to define or impede him.

“Itzhak” is a love letter to an artist who believes in paying it forward — not only through music but through philanthropic works.

Perlman’s love of the violin is magical.

People, he says, are drawn to certain instruments because of their sound. A successful musician is one who makes his instrument sound as if it is coming from his heart.

The movie, which runs a short 80 minutes, follows Perlman as he performs around the world.

Perlman is shown playing the National Anthem at Citi Field in New York — he and his wife, Toby, are big Mets fans — as well as collaborating with Billy Joel and also a Klezmer group.

The most joyous moments in the movie are those in which Perlman is teaching, sharing his passion for music with students from all over the world.

He teaches in New York and Israel, among other places.

Perlman has adopted New York, and it is fascinating watching him navigate the city streets in his motorized wheelchair. He seems so free and joyous.

The moments during which Perlman is performing are breathtaking. Seeing his emotions as he plays and the bond he shares with his violin is wondrous.

Perlman was a child prodigy whose early years were hampered by the prejudice of those who saw only his polio and not his talent.

A black-and-white sequence of a 13-year-old Perlman performing in 1958 on “The Ed Sullivan Show” feels almost patronizing, especially in the manner in Sullivan introduces him, as if his talent was secondary to his physical condition.

Perlman came to the United States when he was about 13 and did not speak any English. Music was his language.

He finally was accepted at Julliard, where he was taught not to just read the notes on the page, but to use music and his violin to express himself.

Laughingly, he explained that he hated his teacher, Miss DeLay, because “she made me think.”

“Itzhak” will have you falling in love, not only with Perlman but with his music.

Throughout the movie, Chernick shows us Perlman’s dedication to God — he and his wife always make Sabbath, and he won’t perform on Friday nights — his humor, his friendships, his ability as a teacher, his love for his family and his love of humanity.

He is that rare individual who overcame hardships, triumphed over his adversities and, through them, grew into a stronger, happier and better man.

“Itzhak” is not intimidating. As a matter of fact, you will walk out of the theater wishing you could bump into Perlman and ask him to join you for a glass of wine or a beer.

And, as Chernick portrays him, he would probably — and gladly —accept.

The movie, like the man, is a treasure that should be cherished.

I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob ( and Rottentomatoes ( I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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