This documentary highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of Bruno Monsaingeon. The filmmmaker has the ability to find some amazingly rare archival footage of his subjects--I think for his Richter documentary he tracked down every frame available of the pianist. But his storytelling is often undisciplined and wanders. While this work isn't nearly as sprawling as his epic Richter bio, it still tends to be a bit out of focus, in my opinion. Rather than really talk much about Oistrakh as an artist--his technique, interpretations, ideas, etc.,--it instead spends most of its time dealing with how difficult it was for a Soviet artist to thrive in an oppressive regime. It's interesting material, but I couldn't help feeling that the same exact story could have been told about Rostropovich, Richter, Mravinsky, Kagan, Temirkanov, Gutman, etc. A better title for this DVD might have been "It's Tough To Be An Artist in the USSR."
That isn't to say it's a bad film or you shouldn't watch it. It just felt undisciplined and a little wide of the mark. There's an early bit where two neighbors where Oistrakh used to live argue over who bought him his country house. It's interesting, but Monsaingeon never contextualizes it--it's just presented as two people arguing. This is just one example of how the film, and most of M's films, can often feel like merely a hodge-podge of clips and interviews strung together, interesting in themselves but ultimately not organized into a larger whole by the filmmaker.
In short, why is Oistrakh special? Why do we care about him so much? The film never addresses that.
The interviews are fascinating, however. Now that the iron curtain has been lifted we have a clearer view than before of what former Soviet artists had to go through--a subject that seems to interest Monsaingeon. Rosdestvensky relates how when Oistrakh died, he was abroad but was prevented from staying and conducting memorial concerts for his comrade because his arbitrary 90-day period he could be out of the country was up. You can see he still feels pain and anger over this act.
If you live in North America, this disc, unfortunately, will only work if you have a region-free DVD player. (If you're not sure if you have a region-free DVD player, you almost certainly don't.) And don't even think about playing it in your computer, unless you have the proper hack. (Again, if you're not sure, you don't have it, and even if it plays it will then "lock" your machine onto the new region and you will be unable to play North America DVDs after that. It will not warn you about this; it will just do it.) For some reason most of Monsaingeon's work is not available on region 1 DVD. That's a shame. Overall I recommend this, if you have the right equipment to view it. If not, you may want to search out a VHS version.