Review by Sean Boelman
One wouldn’t normally expect a nature documentary and an art documentary to go together particularly well, apart from the fact that they revel in the beauty of their subjects. Regardless, filmmakers Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin’s new film Picture of His Life attempts to merge those genres and does so in a compelling way.
The movie tells the story of wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum, considered one of the leading artists of the medium, as he sets out on a journey to capture an elusive underwater image of one of the world’s most impressive predators: the polar bear. Offering a journey into the unknown, the film is obviously very cinematic.
Admittedly, though, the stakes aren’t quite there. Even though members of Nachoum’s crew repeatedly state the danger that he is putting himself in to swim alongside these predators, it often feels like this is an attempt to artificially raise our expectations for something bad to happen rather than letting us get wrapped up in the story naturally.
The movie would have been much more impressive had it leaned more into the excitement of exploration rather than the fear of danger. Most people already respect the power of the polar bear as the top of its food chain. More tension could have been created by leaving the audience whether or not Nachoum was going to fulfill his dreams.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Nachoum’s story is his unflinching dedication to his craft. Interviews with some of the other leading wildlife photographers (including names that may be more familiar to viewers) will explain why his art should be respected. The film’s footage shows why his work ethic should be respected as well.
Often, the primary goal of a documentary like this is to leave the audience in awe of the natural brilliance of nature. Since Nachoum’s photography expresses such an obvious admiration for the Earth, audiences will almost certainly leave having the same respect for the world that surrounds them.
Of course, the movie features quite a bit of Nachoum’s work, and as a result, it looks gorgeous. It is certainly understandable why Nachoum is so renowned for his contributions to the field of underwater photography because the images he produces are extraordinary. Additionally, the footage shot by Yonatan Nir and Adam Ravetch of Nachoum at work is quite impressive in its own right.
Picture of His Life is a gorgeous documentary, and while it may be a bit too unfocused at times, it does a lot of interesting things. Nature lovers will certainly want to check this one out, if only for some of the images it features.
Picture of His Life screens online in partnership with indie theaters beginning June 19. A list of participating locations can be found here.