Written by Mil Peliculas
It's been 25 years since Barbra Streisand's celebrated feature directorial debut film first touched the big screen, and it's taken that long for the film to finally come to DVD.
I was a confirmed movie geek by 1983, at the tender age of 16, but Yentl was pretty far down on my list of flicks to catch — what with Return of the Jedi, The Right Stuff, and The Man with Two Brains all vying for a teenage male's attention. Alas, Luke Skywalker, Steve Martin, and the Apollo astronauts won that round. All fine films.
But I've grown up a lot since then, older and heavier, and more open to stories about a young Jewish woman longing to live her life the way she saw fit. Amongst the Eastern European Jewry of 1904, it was forbidden for women to study the Talmud, forbidden for them to do lots of things, and Yentl is a woman who grew up (aided by her father) with an insatiable desire to learn. Much to her father's (and the village women's) dismay, Yentl eschews all things feminine, and has no desire to subjugate herself to a husband. She lives for intellectual pursuits, and has a love (and a formidable understanding) of biblical teaching that rivals that of any man. After the death of her father, Yentl decides to go out on her own, disguised as a man, to study with the opposite sex. It's a journey that will ultimately reconcile her with her lost feminine side, and give her special insight into the roles of men and women.
As I said, it was Streisand's first try at directing a feature film after starring in numerous box-office successes — a gamble, but a gamble that paid off. She picked up a Golden Globe for her efforts as director, and the film won some Oscars for its music. It also took a nice chunk of ticket sales that year, 39 million in 1983 dollars is nothing to sneeze at, especially for a $12 million film. But besides all that, it's a very sweet film. Sure, she's supposed to be in her late 20s (Babs was about 40 at the time), and only in the dimmest lighting could she pass for a young man — but that's what suspension of disbelief is all about.
The songs are nice, although for me not as catchy as I would have expected, and the performances by the main players were top notch. Amy Irving even got herself an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Mandy Patinkin is also an anchor as the young and brilliant Avigdor, whom Yentl falls in love with. While it's certainly not hard to coax a great performance out of Patinkin, Streisand shows a calm dexterity in working with actors on her first film, and to attack a musical film as the main star, while directing, is quite an achievement even for a veteran like Babs.
Fans of Yentl have waited a long time to see this film come to DVD. It's decked out with some nice extras — rehearsals, deleted scenes, audio commentary — lovingly put together with much cooperation with Ms. Streisand herself. Expect a nice evening in front of the big screen with this one.