Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Swimming with, while photographing, polar bears in Nir & Menkin's PICTURE OF HIS LIFE

The title of this new documentary, PICTURE OF HIS LIFE, serves a dual purpose. It does indeed offer a (rather limited) picture of the life of famous wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum at the same time that Mr. Nachoum is desperately trying to take a photograph that will become the most important that he has produced because no one has ever managed it before. That would be a shot taken while swimming in the water along with a polar bear.

As written, directed and produced by Yonathan Nir and Dani Menkin (shown above, with Mr Nir on the right), the film begins with some interesting information about polar bears that sets the scene for pretty much why the film is being made and what it, along with Mr. Nachoum (shown below), wants to accomplish.  The photographing of the polar bears while swimming would seem even more difficult these days, as climate change is greatly limiting the diet of these major carnivores and thus making it even more dangerous to be near them.

TrustMovies has enjoyed a couple of Mr. Menkin's earlier films (Dolphin Boy -- co-directed with Nir -- and On the Map) a great deal, but one of the things he appreciate least in a movie is undue padding. Picture of His Life is so full of this that what just might make a 30-minute short has been unconscionably stretched to 75 minutes (with nearly ten of these used for opening and ending credits!)

Even the information, interviews and photos we're given about Nachoum's earlier life and wartime experiences are repetitive, while some of the dialog we hear could hardly be more obvious and stale: "I think, when you go underwater and you're attacked by animal, this affects you." Duh.

The psychology is maybe a little cheapjack, as well: Regarding that polar bear, "I think Amos sees his dad in it," someone notes along the way.  Amos is indeed an impressive guy -- there's no getting around that -- and so is his work, which we see something of here. But since there seems not all that much to be said, they simply say it over and over again. (After hearing that Amos does not like to talk about his wartime experience, we also get, "What happened to Amos in the army is a mystery to me.")

Even the interviews with the "experts" include a little too much blather, although the visuals presented -- of Amos shooting a shark, crocodile, anaconda, leopard seal and more -- are certainly impressive. But the faux suspense built up around the question of whether our guy will be able to get that polar bear shot borders on embarrassing.

The final sequence of the mom and her two cubs in the water, however, may just be worth all your time. It's lovely and amazing. From Oded Horowitz/Panorama Films, in English, Hebrew and Inuktitut, Picture of His Life opens in virtual cinemas in New York City, Los Angeles and elsewhere this Friday, June 19. Click here for information on how to procure a viewing.

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