Review: ‘Pianomania: In Search of the Perfect Sound’

In the music world, all attention focuses on the players. But what of the instruments themselves?

In the classical music world, all attention inevitably focuses on the human elements of technique and expression. But what of the instruments themselves? Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis’ “Pianomania” peels back a curtain to observe the meticulous, instinctive, sometimes downright flabbergasting attention that goes toward choosing and preparing keyboards played by world-class virtuosi. Fans will be in heaven, while others should find this disarming docu surprisingly absorbing. Winner of the San Francisco fest’s documentary feature prize, it opens theatrically in Germany later this year and should find numerous artscaster berths elsewhere.

Our protagonist is Steinway piano-tuner Stefan Knupfer, whose unfailing good humor comes in handy when dealing with often highly abstract input from clients. Beyond the instruments’ inner workings, consideration also must taken as to the surrounding physical space, temperature, et al., when seeking a desired sound. A dramatic arc is provided by the full year’s preparation leading up to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of Bach’s “Art of the Fugue.” Meanwhile, Knupfer travels as concert technician to equally celebrated pianists whose eccentric personalities and excerpted performances provide considerable entertainment value. Docu was shot on 35mm; assembly is first-class.

Pianomania: In Search of the Perfect Sound

Austria-Germany

Production

A Wildart Film and Oval Filmemacher production. (International sales: Oval, Berlin.) Produced by Robert Cibis. Directed by Lilian Franck, Robert Cibis.

Crew

Camera (color), Jerzy Palacz; editor, Michelle Barbin; music, Matthias Petsche. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival (competing), April 29, 2010. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

(English, German dialogue)
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