Let me start out by saying that The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes isn’t for everyone. But then, neither is gourmet dining or Chopin’s music or climbing Mt. Everest. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is a film you experience, not view passively or even engage on an intellectual level. It is all about images, emotions and evoking dreams and secrets from the soul. You come to The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes as you would come to a painting in a gallery, or a concert by a symphony orchestra, without the desire to piece together a narrative or be entertained by action or comedy. You come to this film to be moved, and it does move you.
The Quay Brother’s 2005 surrealist film loosely follows a story of good and evil, as well as love, desire, and madness. The film starts with a beautiful opera singer, Malvina van Stille (played by the stunning Amira Casar), murdered by an insane admirer on the eve of her wedding night. Later, a piano tuner (Cesar Sarachu) journeys to the island of the mysterious Dr. Emmanuel Droz (a sufficiently sinister Gottfried John) to tune the automatons he creates. There he sees a woman who may be the opera singer. But is she alive or dead? Is she real? What is real or unreal soon fades into a middle realm, one of dreams, desires and emotions.
The story is not easy to follow, as the plot snakes through diabolical plans, magic, madness, love and dreams. But, clarity is not the purpose of the story. The film is a dream, and it follows its own dream logic, asking only that you immerse yourself in its color, light and evocations to create in you the feelings of the characters. It is an internal film, not one that you place on a slab for examination, but one that you absorb inside of yourself to reach the wordless desires of your soul.
On a technical level, the film is a delight as well. The Quay Brothers’ animation is used beautifully to illustrate the emotions of the story and to create scenes of the automatons. The world of the film is itself an art piece, bathed in light and shadow, chiaroscuro used to the fullest to enhance the drama. The use of color, mostly cool colors and soft, tranquil shades, offset occasionally by erotic and demented yellows and reds, helps to create unity in the convoluted plot and to ground the viewers in the reality the Quays wish to present. Many scenes look like Baroque paintings, very theatrical and colorful, with a sense of balance and classical use of symmetry. The visual delights of the film far outweigh any confusion left in the storytelling and forces the audience to really question just what film is. Is it merely a venue for entertainment, or a tool to tell a story? Or, is film an art unto itself, and is this extreme attachment to narrative a handicap on the art?
No matter what your answer is, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is a visually rich, moving experience that every viewer with an adventurous taste should give a try. It’s truly an artistic marvel.