The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes

The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005) is a film at the artier end of the spectrum. The filmmakers, the Brothers Quay, have done stop-motion puppet animated films and ballet before, and this, their second feature-length film has a definite theatrical feel (in the obvious artificiality of the sets, for instance), and incorporates some stop-motion animation.

The film has a dark, fairy-tale feel. Most of the action takes place on the estate of Dr Droz, where he is supposedly rehabilitating patients with psychiatric problems, but his main focus seems to be building a series of automata that play out little musical scenes. Droz calls on the services of a super-sensitive piano tuner to prepare these automata for a grand performance, and the tuner becomes fascinated with a voice he hears singing in the night, as well as a deeply withdrawn female “patient” of the doctor’s that, from the film’s prologue, we know is a famous opera singer who died (or was killed by Dr Droz) on the night before her wedding, and who Droz has re-animated so as to use her voice in one of his automata.

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Plenty strange, and all the better for it. But ultimately the film disappoints in that it doesn’t resolve as a story. On a lengthy interview-extra on the DVD, the Quay twins lament the fact that their film has come under criticism for this reason, and ask why people can’t just accept its non-traditional story structure. But I think the reason people (certainly I) expected more of a story-like ending is that it has such a story-like beginning (the prologue, where we see the death of the opera singer), and such a fairy-tale air that we feel we’re being promised a traditional resolution, even if a dark one.