The Films of the Quay Brothers: The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

Being a fan of surrealist film, I thought that I was at least somewhat prepared for the sophomore feature from The Quay Brothers, entitled The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. 

I was wrong.

If you are at all familiar with the work of the Quay Brothers, you know that you are about to embark on a journey. You’re not here to simply sit, watch, and understand a film in the usual way. You are here for an experience that will require a certain amount of patience, yet one that will be incredibly rewarding, provided that you surrender yourself to it.

Like most of their short films, not to mention their first feature, entitled Institute Benjamenta, the Quays are far more concerned with dream logic rather than a straightforward narrative. The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is a mood piece that is largely made up of live action and stop-motion sequences that are meant to disorient you, to tell you a tale that relies heavily on your intuitive abilities.

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is “about” a mad genius, Dr. Emmanuel Droz, who murders an opera singer named Malvina on the night of her wedding, and takes her away to a villa where he proceeds to bring her back to life. At some point, she will be forced to play a part in a stage production, in which she will reenact the events that led to her kidnapping. Droz seeks out the “piano tuner of earthquakes”, a man named Felisberto, who he hires to sync the strange automata that house ominous secrets. Led through the villa by the doctor’s assistant – and possible lover – Assumpta, the naïve Felisberto eventually meets and becomes infatuated with Malvina, much to the disapproval of Droz.

Note that this tiny synopsis is only skimming the surface of the film. There are many layers – many, many layers – within. I can promise that you will never forget the film once you’ve seen it. Many of the characteristics which mark the work of the Quays can be found here, including their mutual obsession with nature, particularly forests. The animated sequences are both shamelessly creepy and undeniably gorgeous, and the score from Christopher Slaski stands alone as a work of art.

Fans of avant-garde cinema are encouraged to seek out The Piano of Earthquakes, available from Zeitgeist.

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