“How long can you live with memories?”
This is one of the first lines of Joe’s Violin, coming from the eponymous Joseph Feingold. It is an expression of his carefree attitude about donating one of his most prized possessions: a violin. What Joe’s Violin aims to do, however, is supplant that throwaway notion with the creation of new memories.
Joe’s story is one of Holocaust tragedy. At the age of 17, in eastern Poland, Feingold was taken by the Russians and put into a Siberian labor camp. Of the few things he had after his time in the camp his violin becomes, in retrospect, a totem of hope and history.
The violin is ultimately donated to an all girls school, a school that the principal describes as a “school full of survivors.” The documentary sets this donation up as fitting given the violin is an ornament of perseverance.
At the school, a 12 year old student named Brianna Perez is awarded the honor of playing the violin.
Joe’s Violin is a mix of Feingold’s history during the Holocaust and the story of Perez’ home and school life. Two very different lives put in conjunction by an object. It is a simple premise elegantly composed, although ultimately lacking in the larger implications that documentary often attempts at.
In a way, this is refreshing. What a 24 minute film can produce is often better served on the smaller scale. A dual character study of this kind is meant to illustrate the simple beauty of humanity. The scene in which the two lives intersect, what is effectively the film’s climax, is wonderful.
There is nothing profound or earth-shattering about Joe’s Violin, and that is a great thing. The violin becomes a passing of the torch that is easily digestible and perfect for a film of this bite-size nature. It may lack a certain nuance or sense of flair, but it survives on its humanistic approach.
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)