Eye For Film >> Movies >> Joe's Violin (2016) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Joe is 91. Although they don't fully show his age, his hands are failing him; they no longer have the strength to play his beloved violin. There's no point in having it sitting around if he's not using it, he thinks, so when he hears about a school project to collect and pass along musical instruments, he decides to donate it. Brianna is 12. She hasn't glimpsed the kind of horrors that Joe has survived, but she's been through hardships of her own, taking her parents' separation particularly badly. In her hands, the violin sings again. Through its voice, the two find a depth of kinship that no mere words could convey.
It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood movie and one wouldn't be surprised if it's turned into one, but this is a true story, a tale captured in documentary form by filmmaker Kahane Cooperman, who happened to overhear part of it on the radio one day. It's a story full of unknowns, because Joe wasn't the first owner of the violin. He found it in a flea market after surviving a Siberian gulag, played it to remember the mother and younger brother he lost to the camp at Treblinka. It might easily have had a previous owner whose story was every bit as bleak. In that polished wood, lovingly cared for over the decades, history is written. Brianna was chosen to play it because something in the way she plays suggests she might connect with that depth of emotion. When she meets Joe, it's obvious that the choice was the right one; but there will be new stories in the future, too, because after her graduation a new student will be chosen to play it.
Framed with deceptive simplicity, this is a charming little documentary whose brilliance stems from Cooperman's awareness of when to stand back and let things happen. Joe's painful past is recounted gently, illustrated with a surprising number of black and white photographs. We see him today in rooms full of unshowy but plainly treasured things, with a wife whose face is lined from smiling. He doesn't really understand why people think he's anything special. Old family portraits sit on a shelf: faces that are still with him. His mother once sent him the lyrics of a piece by Edvard Grieg. All these people are long gone, but the music lives.
Short and sweet but never cloying, Joe's Violin is a real treasure. Like the instrument, it finds a way to put across what cannot be captured in words.Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2017
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