By SCOTT BENNETT
“Married to Math” is a film made as if it were a mathematical equation with unknown expressions of value being moved towards a solution. Created by Nina Zaretskaya, this documentary presents three mathematicians from the former Soviet Union who released the artistic expression of their youth after the distraction of their training in formal mathematics.
One of the intriguing things about this film is that it starts with a visual and auditory mystery or series of mysteries. A grand flourish of orchestral music leads the viewer to the opening credits within which lay clues of what is to follow and what then unfolds is a visual and auditory presentation without apparent narrative.
The music gives way to a strong visual image as a voice speaks of scientists making a great discovery. As the speaker continues, the images and music flow, and the viewer at first wonders how the images are related to the narration only to discover that the narration is a fictive discussion of a fantastical universe of “mirror worlds and alternate realities.” The music and images continue as the dialog ends and a new voice begins to tell the real story of the images. It is the introduction of the first of the mathematicians being featured in the film.
“Married to Math, How Three US Mathematicians From Ex-USSR Gave Birth to Something Extraordinary“ is the story of three artists who initially subsumed their artistic talent to pursue a decidedly non-artistic course of study in formal mathematics. The viewer hears Yana Semenovich’s story of making the decision to forego her love of art for mathematics, and the first element of the “equation” of this film is uncovered. The vivid visual expression of her artistic talent is at her core with mathematics being a distraction of which she became free.
Alexey Shor is the next element of this unfolding equation of sight and sound. A child math prodigy with strong musical creativity, he chose mathematics as his primary focus but with music as his very strong alter ego. When the opportunity arose to remain a mathematician or to make music his life rather than a hobby, he chose music and the viewer is swept into the musical creations of this prodigious artist.
The last element is Asya Semenovich, a writer, with a talent for math, who chose math for the unfettered freedom of expression that it allowed in a country where the government restricted the free-range of creative written expression. Math was her outlet for her creative talent until she was able to escape the restrictions of government and focus all of her energy on her life-long passion for writing.
Nina Zaretskaya puts the viewer into the heart of a creative process that presents, elaborates, and solves this equation. The viewer has been drawn into the seemingly unconnected images, music, and narration as they are revealed as elements defining the equation of the film. Ms. Zaretskaya has crafted an exceptional film that not only presents the creative foundations of the artist/mathematician’s vision but is also an expression of that creative foundation.
(Scott Bennett is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.)