, November 2010
If you’re a major fan of the gifted 41-year old pianist Piotr Anderszewski, you may very well enjoy this feature by the French filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon more than I did. Monsaingeon has previously produced documentaries concerning other celebrated musicians including Glenn Gould, Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh, and Yehudi Menuhin. Here, the premise is that a couple of winters ago, Anderszewski traveled around Europe by train, getting from concert to concert in a cozy railway carriage outfitted with a Steinway and other comforts of home. Why did he do this? As far as I can tell, strictly so that Monsaingeon could make a movie about it. A little contrived, some would say.
Monsaingeon is clearly besotted with his subject. Anderszewski is a devoted Mozartean and there’s no question that he renders that composer’s music effectively. But we’re apparently supposed to view it as a manifestation of the pianist’s special connection to Mozart when he plays excerpts from Die Zauberflöte and sings along wordlessly, as you might in the shower. We see plenty more without much of a point. There are grainy home movies from Anderszewski’s early childhood in Poland (nothing related to musical activity) and he goes shopping for vegetables with his ancient grandmother—she allegedly remembers the First World War—at an open-air market in Budapest. Periodically, we see him committing to paper his deepest thoughts and he makes some less-than-spontaneous pronouncements about music, and life as a musician. Some are pretty over the top. For example, early on in the film, Anderszewski reflects on the shortcomings of three aspects of his life as a keyboard virtuoso: playing concertos, performing solo recitals, and making recordings. As all these activities have their drawbacks, the pianist concludes that “the ultimate temptation would be to stop everything, lie down, listen to the beat of my heart and quietly wait for it to stop.” Someone call the suicide hotline.
This isn’t a concert film, of course, but the most enjoyable parts are the brief musical selections shot in performance, material by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, and Chopin. In addition, on the train, we observe Anderszewski working with his violinist sister, Dorata Anderszewska, on a Szymanowski piece (La Berceuse d’Aïtacho Enia, op. 52.) Their music-making is exquisite and I wish there were more of it.
But that’s not the purpose of this endeavor. Monsaingeon tells us in his liner note that he’s made “a ‘frontier’ film, on the borderline between documentary and fiction.” So images of the artist moodily watching the scenery go by from his railway car, a dinner party on the train, and some pretty banal pronouncements (“Mozart is life itself”) can perhaps be forgiven. Those who collect arty films with musical subjects should consider this release, then.