English helmer Michael Radford ("Il Postino") returns to almost-divine music and his nonfiction roots with "Michel Petrucciani," which chronicles the short but intense life of the late, great French jazz pianist.

Exactly 30 years after his “Van Morrison in Ireland,” English helmer Michael Radford (“Il Postino”) returns to almost-divine music and his nonfiction roots with “Michel Petrucciani,” which chronicles the short but intense life of the late, great French jazz pianist. Though hardly a hagiography — in fact, the pic plays up the fact that contradicting stories exist about the 3-foot-tall performer who suffered from brittle-bone disease — Radford’s procession of unidentified talking heads and archive pics and footage nonetheless feels rather safe. Smallscreen playdates will be forthcoming, with minor arthouse riffs a possibility.

An overview of Petrucciani’s life and career as well as the many aspects of his complex personality — raconteur, clown, womanizer, virtuoso musician, handicapped adult trapped in a tiny body — all arise organically from the material, but the pic lacks the audacity (or virtuosity) of its protag. Nimble editing mostly compensates for lack of onscreen identification of the many memory-spouting agents, lovers, fellow musicians and family members (including son Alexandre, who inherited his father’s condition and is credited as a co-producer here). Quality of the archive footage varies wildly; soundtrack is great but sound mix not exceptional.

Michel Petrucciani

Docu - France-Germany-Italy

Production

A Happiness Distribution (in France)/Polyband Medien (in Germany) release of a Les Films d'Ici, Liaison Films, Looks Films, Partner Media Investment production, in association with Arte France Cinema, Eden Joy Music, Noa Noa Film, with participation of Arte France. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Serge Lalou, Annick Colomes, Bruce Marks, Gunnar Dedio, Martina Haubrich, Andrea Stucovitz. Co-producers, Alexandre Petrucciani, Roger Willemsen. Directed by Michael Radford.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Sophie Maintigneux; editor, Yves Deschamps; music, Michel Petrucciani. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (noncompeting), May 13, 2011. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Michel Petrucciani, Alexandre Petrucciani, Philippe Petrucciani, Tony Petrucciani, Eugenia Morrison, Tox Drohar, Aldo Romano, Dorothy Darr, Erlinda Montano-Hiscock, John Abercrombie, Lisa Abercrombie, Bernard Benguigui, Marie Laure Roperch, Helene Drefus, Francis Dreyfus, Georges Finidori, Pascal Bertonneau. (English, French dialogue)

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