The Piano Tuner of Earth Quakes (2006)

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Review #369 of 365
Movie Review of The Piano Tuner of Earth Quakes (2006) [NR] 99 minutes
French Title: Accordeur de tremblements de terre, L'
WIP™ Scale: $13.50
Where Viewed: Starz FilmCenter at the Tivoli, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 16 January 2007
Time: 8:15 p.m.

DVD Release Date: unscheduled

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Directed by: Stephen Quay (In Absentia) and Timothy Quay (In Absentia)
Written by: Alan Passes (Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life), Stephen Quay (In Absentia), and Timothy Quay (In Absentia)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Amira Casar (Peindre ou faire l'amour) • Gottfried John (Proof of Life) • Assumpta Serna (¿Perfecto?) • César Saracho ("Camera café")

Soundtrack: order the CD below

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Possessing one of the most alluring titles for a film in recent memory, The Piano Tuner of Earth Quakes seems to beckon one's senses. Add that is was co-writen and co-directed by the twin Quay Brothers, Stephen and Timothy known for their incredibly imaginative stop motion animation sequences, and you've got a set up to spark wonder an intrigue prior to seeing the film. The work of the Brother's Quay for most people is an acquired taste not unlike dark chocolate. Some will never acquire the taste, some will and learn to love it, and others enjoy it but never forget the semi-sweet but bitter taste enveloped with the provocative, decadent, power of the nearly pure cocoa. An untrained pallet is likely to see this film and desire nothing but escape from the plodding, mechanical, overly mysterious and intentionally artistically arrogant approach to unfurling the plot. The curious plot and cinematography captured the peculiar colorless tones of the old Vincent Price psychological horror films, and were he still alive, he would have been perfect for this film. The story is rather simple of construction. A beautiful opera singer named Malvina van Stille (Amira Casar) is killed and then stolen by an inventor named Dr. Emmanuel Droz (Gottfried John) during a performance of her wedding scene and right in front of her fiancée, Adolfo Blin. We next see the curious resurrection of Malvina on a mysterious island lair seemingly chopped by Edward Scissorhands off the coast. Droz summons a piano tuner named Felisberto Fernandez (César Saracho) to come to his island and tune the musical instruments within his automotans—mechanical dioramas with animated scenes inside that correspond with the mood of the music they play. These automotans are quite bizarre depicting strange scenes using odd characters. As things progress, Felisberto becomes suspicious of the doctor and his plans when he hears a beautiful voice singing at night and later encounters a mysterious woman sitting on a bench staring into the sea. The clever piano turner begins to suspect there is a sinister plot afoot on the island involving the strange woman and intends to uncover it and rescue her. Alas, he is too late as he falls into the trap set by Droz from the beginning.

"…a distinctive artistic vision that plunges the senses into a surreal, imaginative, and dark world within a world…not a film to be enjoyed by everyone, an incredible artistic achievement nonetheless. "
Confronted with so much schlock in theaters, bombarded with movies that either belong on free television or do little more than tell a story in live action to save people the trouble of sitting down and reading it, and even when exposed to some phenomenal writing or brilliant direction, or incredible acting, it is still very easy to forget that some people today still make films as expressions of a higher form of art. Not everyone will get it, or want to get it, and some will get it and still think it's awful. There are millions of people who think Picasso's work is awful and hardly art. There are people who say, "I could do better by splattering paint on a wall blindfolded." The incredible thing about the medium of film for artistic release is the variety of art forms that can be utilized and blended into a harmonious vision. Music, dance, acting, animation, lighting, costuming, writing, set design, sound design, effects, foley artistry, cinematography, and on and on—hence the length of the credits even subtracting anyone and everyone related to financials and catering of the film. The important thing to realize when seeing a film like The Piano Tuner of Earth Quakes is that the filmmakers are artists first and filmmakers second. Their desire, their intention, was not to make a film that would run on a Saturday afternoon in a multi-plex to untrained eyes and make perfect sense and leave them with a happy little feeling inside. Their purpose was to challenge themselves in the creation of a vision they had for this story, to push the thinking of those who view the film into new areas of discomfort and beauty, and to push the art form in new areas. At all of these, the film is highly successful. The Quay Brothers are not known for films that rely on dialogue as much as this one does. And what's interesting to notice is that so much of the time the dialogue is so secondary to everything that is going on visually either in the set or on the actors' faces. Yet, when the dialogue is clear and easy to understand, there are some truly mesmerizing things said. One example that I tried very hard to remember for this purpose of illustration was spoken by the lovely Assumpta (Assumpta Serna) who plays Dr. Droz's island ingénue whose alluring ways beguile both him and the piano tuner. She is describing her once passionate love affair with Dr. Droz to Felisberto and describes him as being a man who "understands the electricity of women" and, I'm paraphrasing, that his power is like that of the rays of the sun through a magnifying glass enflaming the passion of a woman. Then she says that eventually, the flame dies down, and one must learn to endure the smoldering. I repeated the lines a dozen times over and over in my head thinking about them and their powerful observations of the feelings people get when in such a passionate love affair with a magnanimous opposite who utterly controls the fire and the power to extinguish it with little regard for the effect on the other person. This serves as an example of the artful writing involved where most of the time the dialogue is simple and occasionally intentionally vague or indiscernible for it is not the relevant part of the art that is happening before one's eyes. So, while I do not mean to insult people who do not like this film or do not want to see this kind of film, I do feel it is important to remind film goers that truly artistic films, where the bounds of common sense in the media are being challenged must be approached differently and evaluated differently. It is absolutely okay to legitimately dislike the film and the approach and to say it wasn't successful. But, to be fair, it seems it must be in a different context than to gauge it next to standard, every-Friday released films, even the amazing ones. It is not sensible to say, "this movie was too slow" any more than it would be to say that Picasso's work is too abstract. From the point of view of the artists working in their media, their intentions may well have been to be slow to mimic and achieve the sense of a person being trapped eventually in an automotan him or herself. Or any of a dozen other possibilities. Interpretation by a viewer of art is always permissible and encouraged. It may or may not match that of the artists. And artists know there will be an audience that flatly despises their work. Meanwhile, there will be another audience that lives by it. Such is the way with true and pure artistic expressions.

For me, I found the film artistically and visually stunning. The sinister mood and style wielded the uncanny ability to gnaw at logic and reason while clearly being orchestrated by a brilliant madman whose motives were rooted in science. The eerie animation of the automatons was skillfully achieved as was the character development. Actually, the cast was brilliant in many ways and utilizing this truly international, truly multi-lingual group of actors enhanced the film in and of itself. German actor Gottfried John, for example, a near renaissance man of the international silver screen for over 40 years, should bring out a feeling of eerie and malevolent "where have I seen him before" sensations in viewers from all over the world. The ending and the plans of Dr. Droz are a wee bit vague, and those who want absolute resolution will be disappointed. There is no question that The Piano Turner of Earthquakes represents a distinctive artistic vision that plunges the senses into a surreal, imaginative, and dark world within a world that of the Quay Brothers and Dr. Droz with brilliant success and stunning imagery telling a complex tale demonstrating the lengths to which one man will go to preserve the ultimate beauty he wishes to possess and cherish the rest of his life. Certainly still not a film to be enjoyed by everyone, an incredible artistic achievement nonetheless.

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Other Projects Featuring The Piano Tuner of Earth Quakes (2006)
Cast Members
Amira CasarGottfried JohnAssumpta Serna
César Saracho
Co-writers / Co-Directors
Stephen QuayTimothy Quay
Alan Passes

Related DVD
Related VHS

The Piano Tuner Of Earth Quakes (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
Possessing the alluring title, The Piano Tuner of Earth Quakes seems to beckon one's senses. Co-writers / directors, the Quay Brothers, known for their imaginative stop motion animatio, deliver a film with a mechanical, mysterious, and intentionally artistic approach. The curious plot and cinematography capture the peculiar colorless tones of old Vincent Price horror films. A beautiful opera singer, Malvina van Stille (Amira Casar) is killed and taken by an inventor, Dr. Emmanuel Droz (Gottfried John), during a performance of her wedding scene in front of her fiancée. Curiously resurrected on a mysterious island lair, Malvina is trapped in Droz's web. He summons a piano tuner, Felisberto Fernandez (César Saracho) to tune the musical instruments within his automotans who catches on to Droz's plans and struggles to intervene. The Piano Turner represents a distinctive artistic vision that plunges the senses into a surreal, imaginative, and dark world within a world.

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