Review – Grand Piano – Cinequest

Cinequest is on fire this year, people.  Last night’s Grand Piano viewing was a treat and a half, a stimulating and stirring cinematic experience that had me marveling at how much could be packed into each second of a 90 minute film.

On the surface we have a plot I’ve not seen before (always a plus) centering around a classical pianist coming back to the stage after 5 years. His last performance bombed and as a result he is, as you can imagine, suffering from intense stage fright. The plot thickens and the stakes are upped with far too many things that I cannot divulge without being in violation of my no spoilers rule, but suffice to say I got sucked in before the words GRAND PIANO even appeared on the screen because of the WAY the movie is constructed.

Wonderful use of mirrors and other reflective surfaces, long shots, fantastic shadows, partially obscured images, colors,  pulling us in and out of focus perfectly, every angle imaginable used appropriately and in unpretentious ways, hand-held scenes, the careful placement of information in the background, which slowly controlled the pacing and how you pieced together what was happening and what would happen next….there is so much beauty, metaphor, variety and awesome going on in this film, it’s truly exciting to watch. With all I was seeing I was also wondering about everything I was missing and THAT for me is a good day at the cinema. When I want to see a movie AGAIN, to solve the puzzle, to crack the code, to find the hidden treasures…you’ve won me over.

The rigging of the cameras for some of the fly over and 360 shots must have been a geekfest in and of itself. The use of the CAMERA as art and the art involved in getting the shots, along with the art of editing was just a tremendously effective way to build the suspense and be fully integrated into the story. I haven’t seen a film in ages that highlighted ALL of the technical elements of a film so respectfully and creatively. Costume, set design, lighting, it just really elevated all the design aspects by doing what film and cameras and a crew were MEANT to do.

Perhaps the most brilliant part of this film for me was how the plot allowed the music being played IN the film (the actual concert) to act as a large part of the film score. This sounds obvious perhaps and a bit of a “cheat”, but the piano concert at the center of the film, the piece, functions just like a thriller score, with rests and accents, climaxes and pacing that mimics or counters the action for ultimate impact. Besides being GREAT piano music (and symphonic/orchestral pieces) the music ALSO is extremely integrated in helping to tell the story.

While one more knowledgeable in film than myself (pretty much everyone), probably picked up that these techniques were in part homages, taken from classic noir and maybe NOT as unique as I found them, (Hitchcock has been mentioned in relation to this film’s style) the fact remains that I loved WATCHING as I was seeing things I personally hadn’t seen, or at least hadn’t remembered seeing before. I was engaged in the process of the film as a way to engage with the characters and plot of the film, and it had me smiling at all the innovative and creative choices that went into each screen picture.

Now, with any action or thriller, there’s a certain amount of suspension of belief that you need to buy into. I for one was happy to give in.  I was so seduced by the filmmaking, with all the unique and incredibly smart elements this film had going for it, it didn’t matter if there were minor plot holes, awkward dialogue, or unbelievable consequences as a result of unlikely action scenarios.  This film can easily get away with it as it earns the benefit of the doubt or the turning of the blind eye with each tool it pulled from its masterful cinematic storytelling arsenal.

A grand 5 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a film that was as much of a joy for me to watch frame by frame and shot by shot as it was to simply watch from start to finish.  Grand Piano has no more showings at Cinequest, but as of today is open in select theaters and downloadable on iTunes for $6.99.  If you can’t find a showing near you and you have a good surround sound set up and a decent sized screen, go ahead and rent it.

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