Itzhak Perlman’s musical gifts with violin and bow are legion, so any documentary on him is sure to be fortified with performance pleasure. What’s especially appealing about Alison Chernick’s “Itzhak,” however, is how much time we spend with his personality, which radiates joy about art, thoughtfulness when he reflects on his life as the polio-surviving prodigy who made good, happiness around loved ones, and passion for teaching.
Less a standard biography run-through than a sprightly tagalong (with attendant archival clips), Chernick tries to keep up with the living legend as he travels the world performing and accepting awards. Trips to Israel spark rich conversations about the Jewish people’s history with the violin as an instrument of survival, struggle, and spiritual emotion, and Perlman’s own upbringing there as the son of poor Polish immigrant parents who gave everything for his talent.
At home in New York, he relishes Shabbat dinner with his extended family, zips around on his scooter, rehearses with musicians (from classical to Billy Joel), kibitzes with friends and showers attention on students at Juilliard and the summer residency program he started with his wife of half a century, Toby.
In fact, Toby’s ebullient, fiercely intelligent and supportive presence is the movie’s other affirming force: as a portrait of a marriage forged in respect, love and companionship, “Itzhak” is in its casually wonderful way proof that life is rarely lived as a virtuosic solo.
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena