The Redhead and the Maestro

The name that sprang to mind was Zubin Mehta, says producer Uri Sivan. It was suggested he make a film about an Israeli cultural hero. Would it have been more natural for him to choose a sports hero? Sivan says in the film that he does not go to concerts, does not listen to classical music. As this beautiful film progresses, Sivan's connection with the classical world - despite his declaration - is revealed gradually, like a story told in whispers. It is a connection that comes from sensitivity and listening, from observation; from a family connection, from the sounds of his childhood and scenes that are etched in his memory.

"Zubin and I" will be broadcast this Saturday at 8 P.M. on Channel 8, as part of the Cultural Heroes series. It's not as pretentious as it sounds. Sivan, describing his work, turns out to be someone who interprets a musical score. His documentary develops like a musical work, discovering new themes and returning to them, creating tension and relaxation, rising to peaks and sliding down slopes, and like Mahler's Ninth Symphony, which concludes it, it also ends in silence.

It takes Sivan half an hour, half the film, to get to his hero. Standing opposite the maestro's door at the Mann Auditorium, he retreats, vacillates and then wanders its dark corridors and meets with the musicians who are practicing there. These meetings are filled with humor, wonderfully filmed and prepare the unstable ground for Sivan to meet the subject of his film. On the way, slowly, the secret slips out. There is a heroine here, whose artistic worth is equal to Mehta's, a former musician who played with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra - first harpist Clara Szarvas, who came to Palestine in 1938 with violinist Bonislaw Huberman (who founded the orchestra) and conductor Arturo Toscanini. She is a woman with whom one immediately falls in love - frank and funny, deep and special. And she is Uri Sivan's grandmother.

Together with her husband, who was the music critic of the Hungarian-language Israeli newspaper Uj Kelet, she would drag her overactive, little, redhead grandson into the world of classical music. He would suffer at concerts, fall asleep and wake up when the audience began applauding and was terrified the conductor (yes, Zubin Mehta) would find out what he had done.

Sivan joins the orchestra on a tour of Mehta's birthplace, Mumbai, and meets him for a stumbling and unsuccessful interview. "I made every possible mistake," he admits. As he passes through the streets of the Indian megapolis, he reveals details of his hero's history, but does not approach him. Only when they are back in Tel Aviv and he joins Mehta in his car on the way to the Mann Auditorium and then to a concert in Jerusalem - "alone with the lion in his den" - does Sivan melt the ice and get Mehta to open up in a rare fashion and reveal a secret that has troubled him.

"Zubin and I" is a truly musical film; it transcends the sounds to reach compassion. It's good Channel 8 exists in the forlorn reality of television, so we can see it.