, February 2011
A viable standalone film, Competitors also serves as a follow-up to 2000’s Russia’s Wonder Children, since it features the same four piano students: Irina, Dmitry, Nikita, and Elena, from Moscow’s Central Music School. Director Irene Langemann inserts clips from the first documentary, including a performance by Elena in Vatican City in front of Pope John Paul II. Now, the pianist lives in Germany with her husband and daughter and seeks representation, but the competition is fierce, so a former professor helps her line up engagements. Langemann interweaves the earlier footage to illustrate how her subjects forged their identities early on. For instance, Irina (the youngest, at 18) still fusses with her gloves before a performance—enjoying playing as much as ever, but fretting more. As she tells her parents, “I’m at the age when I want to make my dreams a reality.” All four perform in competitions and concerts throughout Europe, and friends Dmitri and Nikita continue to help each other with their compositions. Langemann travels with the young pianists to France, Italy, Austria, and Mexico, speaking with a few judges along the way to learn about the standards upon which they base their decisions (one acknowledges that “luck is very important”). Since most contests favor players under 30, Elena worries that her luck is running out. Expressing what could be the film’s thematic statement, she notes that being a former child prodigy “is like standing in your own shadow.” Recommended.