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  PianoTuner of EarthQuakes, The Doll PartsBuy this film here.
Year: 2005
Director: Stephen Quay, Timothy Quay
Stars: Amira Casar, Gottfried John, Assumpta Serna, César Sarachu, Ljubisa Gruicic, Marc Bischoff, Henning Peker, Gilles Gavois, Volker Zack, Thomas Schmeider, Regine Zimmerman, Emil Petrov
Genre: Animated, Weirdo, Fantasy
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Once upon a time there was an opera singer named Malvina (Amira Casar) who was a promising talent on the stages of the world, but the acclaim had won her a more obsessive fan than most in the shape of Doctor Droz (Gottfried John) who was jealous of the reception and worked out a way to have Malvina all to himself: if she wasn't going to reply to his gifts of lillies after every show, then he would have to take drastic action. Thus the night before her wedding, she took to the stage and was singing her heart out when she abruptly stopped and collapsed. Droz jumped up and pronounced her dead, then spirited the body away...

Directors Timothy and Stephen Quay had created a number of stop motion animated shorts in their own very identifiable fashion before they decided to take the bull by the horns and create a feature. That was Institute Benjimenta, after which they returned to shorts, but evidently the desire to make another full length film had not left them for they managed to get the money together via various co-production deals for this, if anything an even more inscrutable movie which confounded as many as it delighted. Although the brothers claimed to wear their influences on their sleeves, there was no shortage of viewers emerging from this baffled.

Then again, if you took it as a form of bringing together various archetypes from myth and literature to concoct a plot which you could approach on those terms you might get on with it better: call it a fairy tale, call it the relating of a particularly overinvolved dream. Certainly as a succession of striking, near-monochrome images it succeeded in its committed surrealism and if you happened to twig what the Quays were getting at, so much the better. Plotwise, it saw Doctor Droz kidnap the now somehow living dead opera singer and take her to his island where in the vein of many a villain of fable he wished to own her beauty and talent for himself, therefore she was imprisoned among his automata.

Those automata are supposed to create music too, but need a piano tuner to assist, therefore Droz hires the services of Fernandez (César Sarachu) who sails to the island and is bemused at what he is requested to do. While there he is entranced by Droz's assistant Assumpta (Assumpta Serna), but when he notices the now-silent, near catatonic Malvina he is even more attracted, being the type in life to bring musical instruments to life and thinking he could do the same for her. Not realising he is playing into the manipulative Doctor's hands, he sets about polishing and refurbishing a gilded cage, not only for Malvina but for himself as well, leaving the question open as to whether either or both can escape.

The Quays mixed a selection of live action but heavily treated footage, as though it had been shot with a jar of Vaseline on the lens, with their more traditional (for them) stop motion animation, displaying such visuals as a woodcutter with a doll's head or a rowboat which is powered by a pair of disembodied doll's hands - always big fans of the unsettling nature of the doll in a sinister setting, were those twins. Yet in spite of their best efforts, the two didn't really marry up, leaving the animation resembling interruptions in the action instead of keeping a flow of the narrative going - in fact, there was little sense of momentum here at all. Obviously for those used to these artists' stylings that wouldn't be a problem, but for too many others the problem arising from trying to watch an art movie and finding themselves giving up on it as too densely packed to make any progress, or worse its sleepwalking rhythms sending them to the Land of Nod, was difficult to avoid. So this wasn't really for the casual viewer, making their short efforts the best introduction. Music by Christopher Slaski.

[This film is available on blinkbox, a service providing hundreds of movies and television episodes without subscription, just a one off payment to either rent or buy your choice. You can watch blinkbox on your SmartTV, Xbox 360, iPad, Blu-rays, Set-top boxes, PC or Mac or TV connected to your PC or Mac. Click here for the details.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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