GOLDEN VOICES

★★★

IMMIGRATION STRUGGLES WITH AMUSING CHALLENGES

JEWISH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Joel Kalkopf
21st February 2021

Don Bluth's underrated masterpiece, 'An American Tail', says it best when Papa Mousekewitz sings his heart out and relishes the fact that in America, "the streets are paved with cheese". A silly line in isolation, sure, but the metaphor rings just as true now for families of immigration as it did for the Jews (or mice) in Russia during the Cossack pogroms. For so many around the world, immigration is the greener grass on the other side of the fence - an escape from hardship, and the chance for a fresh start.

Evgeny Ruman's ('The Man in the Wall') 'Golden Voices' is just that - an immigration story of a Russian couple who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late '80s, finally have the chance to move to Israel and start a new life. 'Golden Voices' follows husband and wife Victor (Vladimir Fridman, 'American Assassin') and Raya (Maria Belkin), the "golden voices" who, for decades, were film dubbing stars. Any film that had the chance to make it across to Soviet shores, you can be sure that it was their voices behind the characters. And although they may have been great at it, in their new country of Israel, there seems to be little demand for such a profession.

'GOLDEN VOICES' TRAILER

While both Victor and Raya approach this chapter as a fresh start, only Raya appears to truly seek a new pathway, whereas Victor seems to be stuck in his old ways, adamant that they can find work as voice actors. It poses the question - what do you do if your old life and profession are no longer valued? Their attempts to maintain their talent and status will be tested, which leads them both onto bizarre and unexpected paths they never would have expected.

As with any story of immigration, the challenges they face are real and somewhat tragic. There is the fear of chemical warfare from Iraqi Scud missiles, the need to find work to pay rent, and it seems that the stories of success they were told in this new land are not all they're cracked up to be (cheese-paved streets ring a bell?). That's not to diminish the most important challenge - whilst they may be Jewish, in Israel, they are just Russian - causing a chasm of differences both linguistically and culturally. Israel might be their "home", but it certainly doesn't always feel like that. It doesn't matter how much you want to reinvent yourself, you will simply be limited by your background and understanding of your new surroundings. The poignancy is certainly felt throughout their struggles, but as with any tragedy, there is the space for comedy to exist.

'Golden Voices' has some very sweet and funny moments. The cultural differences play for laughs well enough, but the most fun this film has is with Raya's new job of being a phone sex operator. She uses her many voice talents and acting chops to keep the men on the other side of the call interested and engaged, and it's really very funny. Likewise, with Victor, his complete determination to prolong his dubbing career leads him to meet some interesting characters, and he gets himself into some unfortunate positions.

There is pathos woven between all the heart this film has to offer, and there is just enough optimism to mould this film as an opportunistic look at immigration.

Victor and Raya spend most of this film apart, paving their own ways to settle in their new home. If 'Golden Voices' isn't quite a tragedy, then it certainly presents as a challenge filled with tragic moments. There is pathos woven between all the heart this film has to offer, and there is just enough optimism to mould this film as an opportunistic look at immigration.

This is no surprise, as Ruman is himself a child of immigration. While this film isn't autobiographical, it is strongly influenced by his parents' stories and memories about their move from Ukraine to Israel. Ultimately, they made a comfortable life for themselves, so it would be cruel of Ruman - along with writing partner and cinematographer Ziv Berkovich - to suggest otherwise. The film is appropriately dedicated to their parents.

Regardless, this amusing story of Russian dubbing stars may seem ultra-specific, but it clearly has a universal theme for all to appreciate and enjoy. With their "golden" voices no longer considered gold, Victor and Raya have their foundations shaken, and although they react in very different ways, their goal of eventual happiness persists for them both. The need to re-invent one's self is sometimes demanded and often necessary, with the sacrifices along the way and the lessons learnt in the process, all shaping who you become as a person. That is something that everyone can understand and appreciate - and thankfully, 'Golden Voices' presents that idea in an amusing and heartfelt way.

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