The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

As a huge fan of the Quay's last excursion into live action filmmaking ("Institute Benjamenta") I was thrilled at the chance to see another feature from such richly textured imaginations. "Piano Tuner of Earthquakes" actually exceeded my expectations.

The meanings inherent in this film come only partially through the plotline. Narrative in most commercial films is the most heavily weighted element (second behind star power). What we have here is a real work of art where every element is given loving attention. This is not a literal story, it is a symbolic dreamscape with sounds, textures, gestures, facial expressions, even down to the glint of light off a glass window giving a profound numinous charge.

Many viewers will find this wealth of detail overwhelming without being led by the hand with the conscious contrivance of conventional storyline. But here, the Quay's have been too compromised. Their tale is a little too clear and dialogue and voice overs too concerned with romanticized story telling (but that's my taste; I realize many prefer an even more linear presentation). Though this concession to convention doesn't detract from the essential power of it's imagery, which is considerable, the film doesn't quite achieve the artistic brilliance of "Institute Benjamenta."

The sound design stands out as one of it's most imaginative features, as textured as the visuals. Very delicate and multi-leveled, there are some passages that rival any soundtrack I've ever heard. On the other hand, there are a couple of themes that are too prominent (a Spanish-style melody played on electric guitar and a "Vertigo"-like love theme).

All together this film distills the essences the Quay brothers have been exploring throughout their career and presents these essences in a glorious ripened form of an adult myth. There's a palpable sensual power here of longings and obsessions that build to a thick swelling of contradictory passions. These conflicted subterranean passions lead to the final earthquake, an upheaval where the opera theater and it's players collapse inward.


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