“Jews have been wandering for thousands of years,” explains musician Basya Schechter a few minutes into The Wandering Muse. “The music has changed as they moved.” Schechter is one of many Jewish artists who use music as the purest expression of their religious faith. Director Tamás Wormser travels the world, from Montreal to Morocco, to find a diverse collection of Jewish musicians. In his search, he meets a tribe of musical artists who wrestle with their Jewish identity.
For those who are not Jewish, the plot synopsis above could seem like a turn-off. However, Wormser’s new documentary, more than seven years in the making, is a film rich with diversity and the chance for discovery. Many who are not close with Jewish people likely have a limited view of the people and religion. The Wandering Muse is an important documentary to teach others about the multiplicity of Jewish groups, perspectives and customs around the world. The invigorating musical performances are an extra plus.
Of the 11 musicians the film focuses on, many of their political beliefs and religious practices are different. However, music becomes a common thread to tie them closer with their faith. Wormser captures these communities with grace and sensitivity. With his camera playing uninterrupted over the concerts and practice sessions, the director gives us a deeper understanding of the feeling and soul behind the music.
The variety of Jewish life the film presents is staggering. Two of the musicians revive protest songs from Tsarist Russia and Nazi Germany and sing them to reflect the Jewish struggle in the present time. Another, a Montreal Jew named Josh Dolgin, merges klezmer music with hip hop, merging the world of prayer with that of a party. In Uganda, a community blends Jewish music with tribal drumming, hoping to connect with Israel.
Wormser packs in a lot of different performers, giving each one the chance to attest to his or her history and creative process. If The Wandering Muse falters in any way, though, it is in the pacing. Since the director revisits the musicians several times over 90 minutes, sometimes we are only with them for a few moments before Wormser whisks us off to another corner of the globe. Regardless, for a film about a wandering people trying to find his or her own sense of home, the jumping around works thematically.