Amos Nachoum is a world renowned underwater photographer and former soldier. In “Picture of His Life” by Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, Nachoum’s heroic struggle comes to the fore with a story befitting any classic hero. The documentary is full of gripping tension and will have you enthralled.
Nachoum is a respected photographer, taking pictures of Nile crocodiles, great white sharks and eels. As a young Israeli man, he joined the army and saw combat during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Afterward, he became a diver and drove a cab. Nachoum started taking pictures of life underwater. Soon he was featured on the Today Show with Bryant Gumbel. Nachoum photographed his sharks and manta rays up close with startling intimacy as if they were Hollywood stars. The sharks grimaced for him, baring their lethal smiles.
Despite his notoriety, there is one animal that eludes Nachoum: the carnivorous polar bear.
To complicate matters, Nachoum’s father never gave him love or support. The father called his son a fool with no manly worth or responsibility. He is shown on film smiling at his son in ridicule. He wanted Nachoum to be a family man and carpenter.
As Nachoum witnesses his father’s derisive behavior, the seeking of the bear becomes synonymous with seeking his father’s love and the very emotion of fear itself.
Nachoum vows success. He sees himself as a non-violent soldier of the natural world. The camera is his gun and Nachoum re-makes himself as a translator of oceanic memories and dreams.
He plans a trip to the Canadian Arctic along with underwater cinematographer Adam Ravetch. He has five days to find an elusive polar bear and capture something of its aura.
No polar bear has ever been filmed with the photographer swimming alongside.
Nachoum emerges as part existential wanderer and part Indiana Jones. As the artist churns about restlessly, often burdened with pounds of scuba equipment strapped to him, the film provides plenty of edge-of-your seat suspense to rival “Jaws.” It is no accident that this documentary happens to be produced by Spielberg’s sister, Nancy.
Especially haunting is the sight of Nachoum’s father alone in his hospital bed, as he calls out to Amos, his “good crazy” son who is many thousands of miles away on his quest.
The film has fine pointed commentary by Jean-Michel Cousteau and marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle along with Nachoum’s two sisters Ilana and Michal, and fellow soldiers Yoni Ben Shalom and Yosi Halfman.
The film concludes with an eerily beautiful song “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen.
“Picture of His Life” with its compelling life story of Amos Nachoum and some pathos of one man risking it all, is one of the best documentaries of its kind.
This film is part of the Tropic’s Virtual Cinematheque Series. Get tickets here and support the Tropic!
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org