October 05, 2005

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

Reviewed by Martin Tsai at the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival

Ten years since making their feature debut with Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life, the Quay Brothers finally return with the ambitious The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. Like their renowned short films, it boasts luminous images and elaborate stop-motion animation. Dr. Droz (Gottfried John) is obsessed with automatons, and he has devised an evil plot to kidnap opera singer Malvina (Amira Casar of Anatomy of Hell) and turn her into a mechanical nightingale. The Quays employ their staple animation to illustrate Droz’s elaborate collection of intricate automatons – including a logger chopping down a tree as mysterious blood drains into a lake, and a severed finger functioning as a stylus on the glass-rim turntable.

There are successful precedents for this kind of experimental mix of live action with animation, such as Conspirators of Pleasure and Little Otik. But for a dreamy fable, Piano Tuner lacks the spunk and subversion seen in the works of Quay Brothers’ idol Jan Svankmajer and their contemporaries like Guy Madden and Matthew Barney. And unlike Benjamenta, Piano Tuner doesn’t have strong central characters to sustain viewers’ interest. So in spite of its fairly conventional narrative, it ultimately comes off as an insufferable art film that doesn’t stand a chance of finding a cult following.

© Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.