Joe’s Violin is a delightfully wonderful short-film documentary that’s an Oscar Nominee for Best Documentary Short Subject. The film tells the story of a violin being passed from holocaust survivor Joseph Feingold to 12-year old Bronx schoolgirl Brianna Perez. The documentary uses a perfect combination of music, footage, and Joe’s very warm voice to tell Joe’s story; after surviving six and a half years in a Siberian labor camp, Joe began a new life in the US. While in a displacement camp awaiting his journey to America, he traded a carton of cigarettes for a violin at a flea market. Music, and this violin in particular, enriched Joe’s life and reminded him of better times before the loss and pain he was forced to experience, and it is wonderful to watch this man donate something he’s held onto and maintained for so long knowing full well that such a special gift can positively affect a young person’s life while she deals with tragedy of her own. I guess my only gripe with Joe’s Violin is that it really pulls from Joe Feingold’s life story and creates a narrative that really makes us understand Joe and why the violin means so much to him, but we never get to really understand why Brianna was specifically chosen to receive the violin instead of all the other students. Kokoe Tanaka-Suwan, the musical director for the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls, tells us that Miss Perez was chosen because she “shows a unique ability to show her emotion through her violin”. Aside from briefly touching on her parent’s divorce and how she was deeply affected by it, we really don’t get a deep understanding of who Brianna Perez is, and what sets her apart and makes her special enough to receive something so precious. As fleshed out as Joe’s life story is, Brianna’s life is left somewhat vague.
One of the films greatest strengths lies with its ability to use music to drive its narrative. Unlike some films I’ve reviewed recently, Joe’s Violin has a soundtrack that perfectly fits the story in tone and theme. We’re told certain things about Joe’s instrument, and the music accompanying the background shifts to compliment the description; it’s a nice, subtle touch that forms a connection between the audience and the titular instrument.
My favorite part of the film is a scene where Joe and Brianna are introduced for the first time; it’s these off and uncomfortable first moments where the two don’t really know what to say to each other, and then Brianna plays Joe a song that has deep meaning to Joe and his life; you can see in literally an instant the two have deeply connected over music. It’s such a warm and magical moment that it’s almost perfect. I highly recommend everyone putting aside just a paltry 24 minutes and 17 seconds of their lives so that they can experience this wonderful story of how one item can span multiple generations and connect them.
Joe’s Violin (2016) Directed by: Kahane Cooperman. Starring: Joseph Feingold, Brianna Perez
9 out of 10