© Piffl Medien

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes
Germany/U.K./France 2005

Opening 17 Aug 2006

Directed by: Stephen & Timothy Quay
Writing credits: Alan Passes, Stephen Quay
Principal actors: Amira Casar, Gottfried John, Assumpta Serna, César Saracho

In a kind of diabolic version of The Phantom of the Opera Dr Droz (Gottfried John) kidnaps opera singer Malvina (Amira Casar), straight from the stage and whisks her away to his far-off castle, complete with under-ground river. Totally under the control of Droz and his evil, jealous housekeeper Assumpta (Assumpta Serna), she stares off into the sunset, dreaming of her long-lost lover. Meanwhile Dr. Droz composes an opera for her. Into this scene comes the piano tuner Felisberto (CesarSarachu), who, strangely, accepts that there are no pianos to tune. He falls in love with Malvina and both end up as figures in a shadow box.

If you watch this film cold turkey and think as I did, “Slow moving, old-fashioned, text-less movie set in Victorian times,” then follow my example and do some research. This is just one more work of art by the Quay brothers, identical twins named Stephan and Timmy who were born in 1947 in Pennsylvania and moved to London in 1970. They have built an impressive career making animated short films featuring dolls and mechanical figures, commercials (MTV, Coca Cola, Slurpee), opera sets, and ballet films. This is their second film with real actors; the first was Institute Benjamenta. If that rings no bells, perhaps you remember the dream sequence which they made for Julie Taymor’s film Frida. (There are lots of dream sequences in this film as well.) For this movie they were inspired by authors Jules Verne, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Raymond Roussel, as well as the 1880 painting “Insel der Toten” ( Island of the Dead) by Swiss painter Arnold Böcklin. Pierre Jacquet-Droz’ was a famous manufacturer of automatons in the 18 th century and they borrowed his name for their Dr Droz whose castle is full of automatic machines with movable figures. They call their film a poetic science fiction film. They filmed it in Leipzig using only seven sets which they moved around as in a theater performance.

This film is especially interesting for anyone interested in art, artistic film making, and European actors. Many thanks to Arte, the Filmforderung HH, and the lottery of the UK for helping to finance something interesting, which is definitely not mainstream. (Becky Tan)

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