“GRAND PIANO” (Fantastic Fest Movie Review)
It is not rare to find a director appropriating, or recalling, the stylistic flair of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma or Dario Argento. Just at Fantastic Fest alone, we’ve encountered director Mark Hartley employing a great deal of split diopter throughout his remake of 1978’s PATRICK. What is rare, however, is to find such influence utilized in clever, thematically appropriate and more breathtaking than endearing manner. As you may expect, this is leading to the arrival of such a film: Eugenio Mira’s GRAND PIANO, an utter joy of high concept, artfully composed and absolutely thrilling pure cinema.
Largely contained in a concert hall in Chicago, GRAND PIANO finds pianist Tom Selznick (a commanding, stellar Elijah Wood) returning to the stage following a five-year absence that was caused by an infamous mid-performance meltdown. Cheered on by, and thus feeling the pressure of, his accompanying musicians, orchestra leader and intensely famous actress wife, Tom is on edge. The simple premise of GRAND PIANO then, is that Tom is further set upon by a note in his sheet music, warning if he does not play every note to a notoriously difficult composition—nicknamed “The Impossible Piece”—he will die.
What follows reveals the “Grand” of the title is not simply relegated to the film’s main instrument. Exploring every inch of the aforementioned, elegant venue, Mira’s tale is absolutely sweeping. It’s a visceral movie, one that immediately brings you to sympathy with Tom. The character begins the film high strung, wanting to live down a major embarrassment and live up to surrounding expectations. It’s something simply everyone can relate to. Mira then makes the wise choice of never giving the audience a glimpse of Tom’s sad day. We don’t need to; we understand its gravity through Wood’s performance alone.
Once its conceit kicks in, GRAND PIANO remains just as economical, while simultaneously expanding to revel in eye-widening, applause-worthy style. Mira roams the hall at points, thrilling as much with throat slash transitions (what will surely be an audience favorite), superimposition, split-screen and wonderful, much appreciated splashes of color, as he does with beautifully rendered holds on Wood playing the piano. The actor, who most impresses with a minutes -long, one shot piano piece just exudes energy, infecting the audience. So does his supporting players, all having as much fun as the viewer—most especially Alex Winter as a sinister security guard, and John Cusack as the villain of the piece.
In keeping with simple story/elaborate storytelling, Cusack’s motive is refreshingly basic, leaving the final confrontation, rather than exposition, the significant operatic moment. Mira’s film continuously ascends, crafting and ultimately composing something truly crowd pleasing. GRAND PIANO is dazzling, technical and splendid.