The underwater photographer Amos Nachoum’s white whale is no whale at all, but rather a polar bear. He’s swam with sharks, anacondas and crocodiles to capture stunning stills during his four-decade career, but never the Arctic predator. In fact, no one has ever shot the polar bear the way Nachoum wants to — while swimming with it — and for good reason: These animals consider humans part of their food chain, the cinematographer Adam Ravetch points out in the film.
In “Picture of His Life,” the directors Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin provide abundant newspaper clippings about polar bear-related deaths while underlining Nachoum’s nearly fatal attempt years before. Determined to get it right this time, the photographer embarks on a five-day Canadian Arctic expedition with a small crew; what follows is less thrilling than the buildup.
For a film granted so much up-close access with its subject, “Picture of His Life” hears surprisingly little from Nachoum himself. Between vérité clips of the journey, the film is inundated with archival footage.
We learn of Nachoum’s Israeli upbringing and army past, and his move to New York. His eventual foray into diving led to his photography. In voice-over segments, Nachoum’s sisters along with marine experts try to dissect his death wish, speculating that he wants to stay relevant or that he finds similarities between the animal and his disapproving father. Nachoum’s father briefly appears in a scene that is almost more tense than the face-off with the bear: He says his son is a fool who doesn’t give to others.
Nachoum remains so reticent about his true motivations that by the time he achieves his life goal, one aches for greater catharsis.
Picture of His Life
Not rated. In English, Hebrew, and Inuktitut, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 12 minutes. View through virtual cinemas.