GOD OF THE PIANO – Review by April Neale

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True horror does not need prosthetic makeup. It does not need portentous music nor shadows and darkness. It can happen in broad daylight and in sunny Israel, where one woman takes it upon herself to alter the fate of many people by her shocking clandestine actions.

Pianist and mother-to-be Anat (Naama Preis) finds herself suddenly in labor as she performs a classical concert. It is obvious in the car ride to the hospital that Anat is depressed. She cannot quite get her accomplished father Arieh’s (Ze’ev Shimshoni) attention, and the new baby boy she delivers is—over time— fastidiously groomed and pushed to become what she could never achieve: a star in her father’s eyes.

But the tragic twist is her baby boy is born with physical issues. And Anat, knowing that there are great expectations of the male heir she birthed, takes desperate maneuvers to guarantee her son will play the piano — at all costs.

The underscore to the horrific scenario that unfolds is that everyone in this film appears unhappy. Anat’s husband—who it is alluded to early on may have a girlfriend—is agitated and morose. There is Anat herself, unable to attain what her father wants, not just as a daughter but a concert level pianist who commands his respect and knows at her core will never attain. The child, Idan (Andy Levi), is also miserable, made into a Frankenstein child prodigy and denied any of the normalcy of childhood for fear that he will fail his qualifying evaluations to study with luminaries including his unforgiving grandfather who he inadvertently upstages at a family dinner.

It is hard to review this interesting film without any spoilers, but trust that I will let you discover Anat’s methodology on your own as the viewer. The music score is full of palpable tension and the concert pieces played by various characters are always perfect to the situation they’re in — seduction, anticipation, elation, denial and grief are some of the emotional themes.

The natural curiosity that Anat has for what could have been is tantalizingly teased and in a chain of events crescendo, we are left with questions as she turns on her family and seeks answers and truths that she shunted from herself years ago.

The torture in this chilling film shot in sunny and hot Israel is the “what ifs?” the “will she’s?” and the “what’s to come” of it all. I can tell you no more.

There is a progression of time and accomplishment in this tightly woven film that leaves you a bit on edge. Anat subsumes her own career to ensure son Idan is the focus in this dysfunctional, yet too highly functional musical family of overachievers, envious blood relatives and frankly, cold bastard of a grandfather.

He is the architect of all the nightmares that began for Anat years ago, coping with his actions and subsequent jealousy and passive aggressive rage that he now quietly turns towards Idan.

Itay Tal’s screenplay is taut and DP Meidan Arama’s lensing is hair raising in capturing the subtlest of gestures and words. His character Adat is not the villain in this compact study of a family in disarray. She is a victim of Arieh’s obsessive desires.

Bravo.

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April Neale

April Neale

April Neale is an entertainment writer and television critic. Neale has read her work both on NPR and 'Spoken Interludes', and has previously written for various industry trades and entertainment websites. Neale has written for Monsters and Critics since 2003, and is an editor and main contributor to the TV, Film and Culture (formerly Lifestyle) sections.