Coming to Israel from the Soviet Union
Raja (Mariya Belkin) and Victor Frankel (Vladimir Friedman), a couple in their 60s, were once heroes of Russian cinema. For several decades they had dubbed Hollywood epics into Russian for cinema audiences. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, they left Russia and migrated to Israel. Like so many other Russian Jews in search of a better life, they struggled to adapt to their new life, new culture and language but there was no demand for their particular skills. After some missteps they found work which allowed them to use their vocal talents again. Victor dubs the latest Hollywood films for an illegal bootlegging operation, while Raja found success working for a telephone sex line.
“Golden Voices” is a comedy about the clash of cultures and an elderly couple finding a new life. Directed by Russian born filmmaker Evgeny Ruman migrated to Israel in 1990 and wrote the script in collaboration with his cinematographer Ziv Berkovich. It explores themes of displacement, disillusionment, and new beginnings and love of cinema.
Victor and Raya Frenkel’s positions were always a little complicated. When the Soviets finally allowed the Refuseniks to immigrate to Israel, they decided to get out while the getting was good. However, adjusting to a new country and a new way of life was more difficult than they expected. For many Soviets, the Frenkels were the voices of international films in Russia. However, Russian dubbing was not an obviously marketable skill in 1990 Israel. Still, due to the large influx of Russian immigrants, Raya manages to find a job requiring Russian fluency. She tells her husband she is tele-marketing. Her boss considers it phone sex, but the way she practices it, she is more like a voice in a chatroom for lonely men like Gera.
Meanwhile, her husband finally thinks he has found an outlet for his talents with a couple of low-rent Russian film pirates, but they just don’t have his commitment to quality cinema. As the couple goes about their new lives, Israeli society keeps moving forward while preparing for potential chemical weapons attacks from Saddam Hussein. We can only imagine how intense the atmosphere was in Israel.
Although it is billed as a comedy, the film is bittersweet in tone and generally much more serious than whimsical. Mariya Belkina gives an extraordinarily accomplished performance as Raya, especially in her acutely sad and sensitive scenes with Alexander Senderovich, who is also a standout as Gera. Vladimir Friedman is achingly dignified as Victor Frenkel.
Ruman and Berkovich periodically address the frustrations of Soviet film censorship, while providing a thoughtful and mature portrait of a long-standing but imperfect relationship.
Ruman and Berkovich trust the audience’s emotions, intelligence and imagination. Their use of metaphors that leave room for interpretation are excellent. There is no first act that shows Victor and Raya’s life in the USSR nor is there a third act scene that ties everything up neatly together; the last line of the film lets the audience use their imagination to fill the rest in. There’s a wonderful subplot involving a man who Raya interacts with and messes with his emotions in a way that could’ve made her unlikable, but the way that she shows compassion toward him and, eventually, remorse is brave, mature and admirable of her. “Golden Voices” is a rare film that’s made for adults and that treats the audience not only as mature adults, but also as human beings.