At PÖFF | Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, the Israeli dramedy “Golden Voices” bagged the award for the Best Script penned by the film’s director Evgeny Ruman and the cinematographer and first-time writer Ziv Berkovich. The film was also given the Award by the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (Netpac).
“Golden Voices” is a comedy addressing hardships of immigration, and although it plays quite safe without presenting many surprises, it is a witty and warm story about a Russian-Jewish couple that immigrates to Israel after the fall of the Iron Curtain, in hope of a better life. We meet Vitya (Martin Fridman) and Raya (Maria Belkin) descending the plane, excited and naïve like children, taking the first photo on Israeli soil. While they’re on it, their greeting committee, consisting of one overly enthusiastic lady, is nervously hurrying them up because she has a plane-full of people that need to be escorted out of the airport. Conducting the tempo with an Israeli flag, the host looks like a tourist guide who signals her annoying customers to finally join the group before going on a sightseeing tour.
The hopes of a bright, better future evaporate bit by bit, and Vitya and Raya have to face reality. They acknowledge the sad truth of not being able to continue where they stopped. Initially seeking connection to their previous acting career, they come to realization that nobody in Israel needs Russian actors.
Back in the USSR, the couple was a trademark name in the dubbing business. They rose to prominence by lending their voices to actors in European and Hollywood classics, but in Israel, where Russian Jews are just a drop in the sea of compatriots of different backgrounds and languages, they slowly sink into the anonymity of average citizens.
With “Golden Voices”, Evgeny Ruman has created a universal film about displacement, disillusionment and the fragile understanding of national identity. The Frenkels are not sure anymore what they are, but they are aware of what they are not – visible in their art field.
Ruman and Berkovich are using a linear narrative concentrated on the now, gradually decomposing the stability of a marriage that’s been doing just fine before the move to Israel. The couple is put within the universal frame of immigration-related challenges: getting accustomed to the new environment, learning the language and finding just any kind of employment that will pay the bills.
One newspaper add looking for “Women with pleasant voices. Well Paid” will take Raya to a job interview she expected the least of having. The golden voice she once was famous for in films dubbed to Russian is now required for sex talk with horny customers of Russian origin, or “selling perfumes” as she would later officially present her new employment.
There were many audience-pleaser sex call comedies like Jamie Travis’ “For a Good Time, Call…” (2012) or Francis Stokes’ “Wild Honey” (2017) just to name few from this decade, although nothing comes close to the unforgettable performance by Jennifer Jason Leigh in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts”, where she earns money with telephone sex while changing nappies or performing the most ordinary house duties. The difference is that Raya of “Golden Voices” is a 62-year-old woman with a girlish voice who presents herself as a shy virgin, while reading Sergei Yesenin’s poetry and nibbling on cookies.
“Golden Voices” will not just be remembered for its script and the incredibly good job done by its sound department, but also for the daring cinematographic choices by Ziv Berkovich whose camera hovers deep over people’s shoulders to reveal what their minds are occupied with.