Skip to Content
When People Die They Sing Songs: A Film by Olga Lvoff    cover photo

When People Die They Sing Songs: A Film by Olga Lvoff 2014

Not Recommended

Distributed by Ruth Diskin Films Ltd., P.O.Box 7153, Jerusalem, 91071, ISRAEL
Produced by Olga Lvoff
Director n/a
DVD, color, 88 min.

College - General Adult
Jewish Holocaust

Date Entered: 06/19/2015

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

This film falls into several genres, but fits into none. It is partly a Holocaust survivor story, partly a close-up view of an elderly woman approaching death, and partly a story of a tender mother-daughter relationship—but it only provides a brief glimpse into any one of them. It would be difficult to say it satisfies more than the filmmaker’s desire to present a deeply personal story in an artistic fashion.

The principals in the film are Regina, a 96-year-old mother and her daughter, Sonia, a woman who appears to be in her 60s, or a little older. Sonia’s parents were Czechoslovakian. At the start of World War II, they left their home and fled with Regina’s parents and her little brother to France. There, Sonia’s parents had to leave their family members, whom they never saw again. Sonia’s parents went on to Morocco, where Sonia was born in Casablanca. When the war ended, they returned to Belgium. Her father developed paranoid schizophrenia and was institutionalized. Sonia and Regina immigrated to the United States.

Sonia sees Regina become increasingly frail. On September 11, 2001, amidst the chaos of the World Trade Center bombing, Regina is at a doctor’s office on 14th Street in Manhattan. Sonia races downtown and finds her waiting there, learning that she might not live much longer. The bombing prompts memories of World War II, and Sonia resolves to discover as much as she can about her family and their early life before Regina becomes too incapacitated to remember. Sonia retrieves an old photograph album and little by little, views the pictures with Regina. At first, she recognizes people and reminisces with Sonia. A music therapist begins to work with Regina, and she sings songs from her youth—some Yiddish, some French. A close, loving relationship between Sonia and her mother develops and flourishes. It is both beautiful to see and difficult to watch. Toward the end of the film, Regina can no longer identify the family members in the photographs and one realizes the end of her life is approaching.

Timelines are blurred—viewers know that Sonia rescued her mother from the doctor’s office on 9/11, but not how much time passed before they see her elderly mother celebrating her 96th birthday. The filmmaker inserts many too many artistic shots of waves rolling to shore and the like to set moods that are attractive to see but fail to convey information that would make the pieces of the story cohere. The story is well filmed and touching, but vague, and does not inform.

The distributor, Ruth Diskin Films, should take note that the disc this reviewer received contained two major errors: first, the title was misspelled; second, it stated “English Sub.,” which she took to mean English subtitles, but though there were sporadic Yiddish, French, and Russian phrases sung or spoken, English was spoken throughout and no subtitles appeared to be available.