"Piano's" plot, imagery out of tune
American brothers Stephen and Timothy Quay, resident in England, are masters of stop-motion animation and short films. They have moved into the realm of full-length motion pictures and "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes" is the duo's second feature production.
An evil doctor, Dr. Emmanuel Droz (Gottfried John), has fallen madly in love with opera singer Malvina van Stille's (Amira Casar) voice. He hatches a plan to kidnap Malvina to make her his personal songbird.
On the eve of her wedding day, she is performing a song for her fiancée Adolfo (César Saracho) on stage and dies suddenly. Droz announces she's dead, steals her body away and brings her back to life on his private island estate. She's in a catatonic state, staring out at the ocean in hopes that her Adolfo will come to save her.
Droz's entire scheme will culminate in another performance by his beloved, which mirrors her abduction exactly.
A piano tuner, Don Felisberto Fernandez (Saracho), is brought to the mysterious island to fix seven automatons -- machines that play the music for the opera as well as show animated scenes. But he's confused by his surroundings, a forest offset by the ocean, as well as less than forthcoming hosts. He's told that Droz is helping his patients -- also called the "gardeners" -- become better suited for the world.
He hears Malvina singing in the night, but is convinced he's dreaming until he sees her. Then he's consumed with talking to her and hopes to set her free. But he gets caught up in Droz's plans, which includes a part in his diabolical opera.
The Quays put forth a beautiful-looking film, with muted colors that dabble in between light and dark. Bright light and colors are used sparingly and stand out against the broodiness of of which "The Piano Tuner" has much. "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes" is set in a dreamscape, leaving it difficult to pick out what is reality and what is a dream.
The stop-motion animation adds plenty to the dreamy nature of the film, with certain scenes acting as the obvious dream, with people running and slowing down in perfect synchronization. Droz's automatons also use the stop-motion animation normally seen in claymation films like Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride."
But "The Piano Tuner" has an entirely too complicated plot. The story is basically circular, beginning and ending with the opera death scene. There's no explanation of why Droz has cooked up this scheme. It's less an evil, diabolical plot, and more pointless. Much of the dialogue is cryptic, like the little anecdotes Droz throws around to make himself seem smart or mastermind-like.
Much of the narration and storytelling could have been forgone. The Quays could have just told their story via imagery as well as action by their characters and gotten the same point across. As Fernandez tries to figure out if he's dreaming or conscious, he perfectly conveys the feeling of being jolted awake from a world that seemed all too real. There's no need to explain that he can't decide if he's in a dream or not, the imagery shows his confusion better than words do.
However, the acting, especially by Assumpta Serna playing Droz's oversexed maid, is superb and the soundtrack adds a haunting vibe to the film.
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