Few directors would be up to the brain-teasing technical challenges of Grand Piano, but then fewer still are reliant on a combination of witchcraft and quantum physics to achieve the daringly implausible results seen in this one-of-a-kind film. Having directed second unit on the largest possible scale for The Impossible (all real effects, little to no CGI), filmmaker Eugenio Mira (The Birthday, Agnosia)* has the brain for marshalling multiple departments and the against-all-odds belief to will their efforts into a cohesive, cinematic spectacle.
The story of a past-his-prime pianist being held at laser-scoped gunpoint by a madman ordering him to play the concert of his life, unfolds almost entirely in real time over a series of intricately dazzling long takes involving cranes, dollies and steady-cams. With an army of technicians having to pull off complex camera manoeuvres in time with specifically coordinated lighting cues and actors required to hit marks and recite lines in time with music played live by leading man Elijah Wood (which must then be re-written to fit the action in the edit), it’s enough to make Brian De Palma wet his pants just thinking about it.
This hybrid of Hitchcokian suspense and the Grand Guignol of Giallo charges out the gate like gangbusters and matches the ludicrousness of Damien Chazelle’s high concept pitch with kinetic visuals and physics-defying camerawork. It’s the kind of thriller that’s so cleverly constructrd and stylishly assured, you want to watch it again as soon as it’s over to try and figure out how they pulled it all off. I for one can’t wait for the Blu-ray extras.
Until then, here’s my lengthy conversation with the conductor of chaos, director Eugenio Mira, who tells us how he discovered Elijah Wood had the rhythm the role required by watching him do karaoke, casting Bill & Ted’s Alex Winter, talking bad guys over a good cigar with John Cusack and why Dario Argento is not as big an influence on the film as it might first seem after watching it. He also has an amazing take on Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula and why it remains unlike anything that’s been done before or since. Someday soon, the same just might be said of Grand Piano.
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*He was also Robert De Niro’s body double on Rodrigo Cortés’ Red Lights
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on January 31, 2014