One of the worst things about attending any film festival is that unfortunately, you will, at least once (although probably more often than not), be trapped in a jammed packed theatre and forced to witness some of the worst footage ever projected onto the big screen. It’s simply a matter of common courtesy not to walk out during a film, however, during the Melbourne Film Festival this year, I made the disastrous mistake of watching the Quay brother’s second feature length movie, The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. In retrospect, I should have ignored etiquette, and just have made a run for it. I would say it’s a “cinematic abomination”, but that would be an understatement. The fact that it won several prizes in the Locarno International Film Festival, makes me seriously wonder if all the judges were all high on marijuana, seeing as it’s still legal to grow in Switzerland. All I can say is, lucky them! The only possible way of making sense of this film would be to watch it under the influence of some kind of weird and wonderful mind altering substance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m normally strongly against all forms of illicit drugs, but this film is making me seriously reconsider their use as a tool to make sense of other people’s sick and twisted ideas and interpretations.
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is a dark and perverse fairytale about an evil yet charismatic Dr Droz who gatecrashes the wedding of Malvina and Adolfo, killing then abducting the stunning opera singing bride, whisking her off to his weird and spooky island villa, far, far away. Although it’s hard to find a definitive reason as to why he snatched this women in the first place (apart from the fact he’s completely stark raving mad), one can only assume he needs her, or at least her remarkable voice, for one of his bizarre experiments.
When they arrive on the bloodcurdling island, the powerful and mysterious doctor somehow revives the women and starts planning the staging of a catastrophic opera, in which Malvina will star. Although I could be completely wrong, one can only assume that Dr Droz is attempting to destroy the world as we know it. Never the less, his plan will only succeed with the help of Felisberto (who is confusingly played by the same actor as Adolfo), a piano tuner, who is employed not to repair pianos, much to his surprise, but instead to tune seven of the doctors bizarre automatons; large mechanical machines that play music and contain small disturbing figures that move repeatedly (such as a man who cuts his leg while chopping down a tree, and bleeds continuously into a pond), much like a cuckoo clock. Whilst stuck on this peculiar island, busily working under the watchful eye of the vile doctor, the young piano tuner begins to fall for the mystifying Malvina, and with the help of the housekeeper, devises a plan to rescue her.
Admittedly, although the film has a very unique and quite amazing visual style, that’s the only remotely positive thing I got out of it. It’s more of a self-indulgent dreary piece of art than something that audiences anywhere will be able to connect with. The story is confusing and almost non-existent; the characters, bland and soulless; the dialog unintelligible and irrelevant. The film is so deeply stylised, that there really is no possible way one can identify with it. This is an unsettling and surreal film that serves no real purpose, and is completely inaccessible to those who are sober. Take my advice, and run the other way.