SFIFF Film Review: “Pianomania”

by Pouria Yazdi on May 6, 2010

Stefan Knupfer featured in the documentary Pianomania, co-directed by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis

As a child I was only allowed to listen to soft rock and classical music. Though I should have probably called CPS, I did not know any better. I do still however love both forms of music. This is probably why I thought Pianomania ruled. The music was absolutely enchanting.

I think that’s all anyone needs to know about a film right? Whether it’s something you should go out and see when you can or whether it’s some garbage piece of trash that no one would enjoy. Pianomania makes me feel bad for not listening to more of the modern piano masters. That’s how good the film is.

This Austrian documentary follows Stefan Knüpfer, a super-exacting piano tuner from Steinway. Sounds boring, right? Wrong, it did not sound boring nor was it boring. I found myself completely enthralled by this man who makes his living trying to figure out what each particualr piano master is looking for in terms of sound.

You get to see Knüpfer’s craft. How he questions each pianist in a different way, how he knows each of their personalities, and how he is confident in knowing how the piano as a machine works. It was awesome.

Not only did I get to peak into this world I knew nothing about, I got to listen and watch some incredible piano playing.

It would be easy for Pianomania to focus on the amazing talent that the pianists have. The directors (Robert Cibis and Lilian Franck) did an excellent job keeping the focus on the tuning rather than the music. Everytime I found myself wanting to hear more classical piano, they knew how to turn my interest back to the tuner rather than the player.

The only detractor I would say were the cut scenes. They were like bad visual montages of water flowing, birds flying, and fields moving in the wind while the music was playing. Each time they cut to one of these collages I found myself feeling like I was in a European Wax Center, about to get a brazilian.

What you get with Pianomania are intimate scenes of a piano tuner and a world famous pianist working together to find the perfect tuning. It is absolutely intersting; these characters talk about how a sound should feel or what color it should emulate. Descriptions like “a perfect disappearing” are thrown around.

I left feeling like I needed a pass to the symphony. That can’t be bad, right?

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