The Piano Tuner Of Earthquakes

2005, Movie, NR, 99 mins


Identical twins Stephen and Timothy Quay's typically precious variation on The Phantom of the Opera, set in a dreamily vague 19th-century Europe, combines live action and their trademark animation into a creepy, glittering object whose dreamlike quality are mesmerizing to a particular kind of sensibility. Haughty mezzo-soprano Malvina van Stille (Amira Casar), who's about to marry musician Adolfo (Cesar Sarachu), pays no mind to the secret admirer who sends obsessive notes and gifts of hothouse lilies. But Dr. Emmanuel Droz (Gottfried John) is far more than a besotted fan: He's a brilliant madman with a mission to avenge himself on the smug opera world that has rejected his compositions, and Malvina is the key to his plan. He engineers her death during a performance, then spirits her off to his island retreat (which looks eerily like Arnold Boecklin's painting "Isle of the Dead") and revives her. He summons a famous piano tuner, Felisberto (also Sarachu), who looks exactly like Arnold and who falls in love with the imprisoned Malvina when he ought to be tuning. Not pianos, mind you — Droz doesn't have any — but the seven intricate automata whose complex gears appear to incorporate human body parts and which the doctor built as part of his plan to stage a cataclysmic performance during an upcoming lunar eclipse. Felisberto finds an ally in Droz's seductive housekeeper, Assumpta (Assumpta Serna), who also reveals that Droz's castle is actually an insane asylum and the men they refer to as "gardeners" are in fact patients. You get used to the confusion, she assures Felisberto, who ought to have no trouble with such conundrums: He is, after all, the third generation of a family of piano tuners who have never had children. How can that be? "It is the secret of our sainted mothers," he replies enigmatically. Shot in soft, shimmering color that often suggests old-fashioned tinting, the film's images are as haunting as its story — which owes no small uncredited debt to Jules Verne's novel The Carpathian Castle — is obscure. Seething with suggestions of perverse pleasures and inchoate horror, this dark fairy tale won't win the Pennsylvania-born, London-based Quay brothers any new fans — it plays to the converted, and the converted know who they are. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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The Piano Tuner Of Earthquakes
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