Yentl (Streisand) is a young Jewish woman living in very early 20th century Poland. At this particular point in time, in this culture, educated women were viewed as demonic. Yentl’s education has been conducted on the sly by her father, Rebbe (Nehemiah Persoff). After her beloved father’s passing, Yentl decides to buck the sexist system and pose as a male in order to enroll in school. Under the name Anshel, Yentl get involved in an unconventional love triangle. Her best friend and schoolmate Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin) is set to marry Hadass (Amy Irving). Avigdor never suspects that “Anshel” is really female, though at times the pair tussle playfully like young lovers. Yentl falls hard for Avigdor, while Hadass takes a shine to “Anshel.” Given Yentl’s predilection for female empowerment, the subservient Hadass is happy to be treated by a “man” as an equal.
There are some interesting elements here involving gender-based attraction. But Streisand never convincingly exudes any shred of masculinity, making it nearly impossible to accept that these characters never discover her secret. Plus, since she’s one of the most recognizable faces in all of entertainment, we (the audience) never really see anything but Barbra Streisand. From an acting standpoint, she does absolutely nothing at all to change her image or voice. There’s not even a hint of androgyny in her characterization (besides short hair and men’s clothing). This unwillingness to compromise and stretch as an actress is a near-fatal flaw in Yentl. Even given the extraordinary production values and generally watchable nature of the film as a whole, the “middle-aged Streisand as a young man” angle adds a layer of unintended comedy that can’t be shaken.
Fans of the film will love Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation, which offers a spectacular image throughout. David Watkin’s golden-hued cinematography is painterly in its beauty and never looks flawed. Be aware that the extended “director’s cut” offered as an option here features material of workprint-quality nature (these added scenes only weigh down the film anyway; the standard theatrical version is preferable). No less outstanding is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that allows the Oscar-winning music by Michel Legrand (music) and the husband/wife team of Alan & Marilyn Bergman (lyrics) to be heard in all its glory.
There’s a wide array of supplemental material here (though not, in a rare case, Twilight Time’s customary isolated score track). When you choose the “director’s cut,” a single-page “Text Introduction” pops up and then a two-minute “Onscreen Introduction” by Streisand explaining how happy she was to edit the deleted material back in. Streisand contributes audio commentary, along with co-producer Rusty Lemorande. There’s also a selection of deleted scenes, a “Director’s Reel Featurette,” rehearsal footage, “My Wonderful Cast and Crew” featurette, deleted songs storyboards, and Streisand’s original 8mm concept film (with optional narration). A few odds and ends, including still galleries, round out the package. This stuff seems to have all been ported over from a previous special edition DVD, but it’s very welcome.
There are a lot of elements here—period piece, musical, Streisand in general—that limit Yentl’s general, mainstream appeal. But for those who count themselves as fans, Twilight Time’s limited Blu-ray will be a must-own. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information.
Images: MGM Entertainment (promotional in nature, not reflective of the Blu-ray presentation)