Review: Creating a Character: The Moni Yakim Legacy
Moni Yakim is likely not a name you are familiar with but many of his students you are. Moni has taught movement at the Juilliard School since 1968. His students include Jessica Chastain, Anthony Mackie, Oscar Isaac and recent Tony winner Alex Sharp, of whom the film traces his time with Moni. When the film focuses on Moni's technique, it is an inciteful exploration of the acting craft. However, it often abandons going deeper on this process in favor of a reunion with Kevin Kline and a brief but unrevealing history of Moni's life.
That reunion scene with Kline does, however, distill the approach that makes movement so key to performance. The idea Moni teaches is to be able to express a multitude of emotions with the body only. Movement is the most crucial tool an actor has in his eyes. We see his class crawl over the floor, scream, run, dance and ungulate all around as they develop a better understanding of their bodies and how movement communicates. We see Moni take away their words so they have nothing left to communicate with. However, that is as deep of an understanding as the documentary offers on this process. Perhaps there isn't more to it and the understanding of his technique only comes from doing it but I do wish the film explained it in more depth.
Director Rauzar Alexander feels the need to give us a straightforward biography of Moni's life and what a life it is. His journey from Israel to studying pantomime in Paris to teaching in New York is impressive. He studied under the famed acting coach Stella Adler and worked alongside Marcel Marceau. While this is all very interesting, Alexander never finds a way to tie it back to his teaching and technique.
The most compelling strand in Creating a Character is the following of Alex Sharp. We see Alex in class, working hard to achieve what Moni wants. We see Moni as the renowned teacher in these moments. The tracing of Sharp from student to Tony winner is powerful, especially in the way it shows the everlasting connection Sharp has to Moni as a teacher and mentor. It is a powerful portrait of the role a teacher has in many students' lives.