Italy Tal’s God of the Piano begins with a concert, moves quickly to a maternity ward and then boldly into a shocking and desperate act. These opening moments speak volumes about the world we are about to inhabit for the next 80 minutes, and does so with very few words — but how quickly the die is cast, and there’s no turning back. What follows is, on its surface, a tale of dashed expectations, but boiling underneath is a layered and complicated story of jealousy, psychological abuse and the search for identity.
Filled with equal parts beautiful music and righteous determination, this Israeli drama looks at three generations of concert pianists, their ambitions and the subtle yet cutting ways they compete with and sabotage each other.
Anat (a superb Naama Preis) has never lived up to the rigid standards of her father (Ze’ev Shimshoni) and therefore hopes that her newborn son can succeed where she has failed. With a single-minded resolve, she repeatedly thrusts her wishes onto her son, Idan (Andy Levi), never pausing to consider alternate approaches. When Idan proves apt, new passive-aggressive jealousies form, visible only through amazingly minute changes in facial expressions and tone — exemplified via an amazing scene in which he plays a piano piece written by his grandfather when the latter was Idan’s age.
Thematically, God of the Piano tells a story as old as time, with nods to Greek mythology and Shakespearean tragedy. The world it inhabits, however, is a very closed-off and relatively small one but remains relatable through excellent storytelling and characterization. Tal (who also wrote the script) acutely demonstrates what generations of low-key emotional abuse can do to a person, and while you may not exactly root for Anat, it’s easy to see that she is a victim as much as a perpetrator.
The human condition might not always be a pretty picture, but Tal proves it still has plenty of room for examination and showcases its complexities in a remarkably reserved fashion.
Available to rent via grailmoviehouse.com