November 26, 2006


Brothers grim: Masters of animated fairy tales, twins Stephen and Timothy Quay create live-action fable in 'Piano' (Damon Smith, November 26, 2006, Boston Globe)

Masters of stop-motion animation in the vein of Jan Svankmajer ("Lunacy ") and Walerian Borowczyk, the Brothers Quay (who are 58-year-old identical twins from Philadelphia) have previously directed one feature, "Institute Benjamenta ," in addition to numerous shorts, like their enchanting 1986 allegory "Street of Crocodiles ," which was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Despite the critical accolades, however, their new live-action fable, "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes ," was dead in the water for 10 years until "Brazil" director Terry Gilliam signed on as executive producer.

"We went to [Britain's] Channel 4 with this project," says Stephen, who like his brother has chiseled features and a rakish mane of sandy-brown hair, "and they made a lot of stipulations about accessibility." Since their idea was partly inspired by Jules Verne's tale "The Carpathian Castle ," the Quays decided to pitch it as "poetic science fiction." But in the end, despite repeated rewrites, no one would fund the production until Gilliam threw his weight behind the project in 2004.

Set on an eerie, forested island, "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes" -- which opens Thursday at the Museum of Fine Arts -- tells the story of Dr. Droz (Gottfried John), a mad genius who kidnaps gorgeous opera singer Malvina (Amira Casar) with the intention of turning the bride-to-be into a musical automaton. Assisted by Assumpta (Assumpta Serna), his succubus-like helpmate, Droz lures Felisberto (Cesar Sarachu ) to the isle, where the gaunt piano tuner begins to fine-tune the mechanisms that will, unbeknownst to him, eventually imprison her.

Watching this elliptically structured fantasy, which won a special mention for "visual atmosphere" at the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival , one gets the sense of "living in someone else's imagination," as a dazed Filisberto intones at one point. But the Quays -- who scripted, directed, and designed special effects for "Piano Tuner" -- say evoking that kind of intersubjective consciousness isn't their goal.

"We tend to hold the mirrors out," says Stephen, "toward life, toward a kind of theoretical beyond."

That Alice is clever, but disturbing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2006 10:03 AM
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