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Pianoforte (2023) — Movie Review

Movies & TV

By Hugo Mercer

- Dec 5, 2023

Possibly in one of history's most mentally taxing competitions unfolds not in a wrestling ring but on a polished stage in Warsaw. Jakub Piatek’s mesmeric documentary “Pianoforte” provides a fascinating glimpse into the illustrious Chopin Competition, where musicians from around the world compete every five years since 1927. The documentary keeps audiences hooked by offering an insight into the strenuous journey of young maestros on their melodious battlefields.

Chronicling the intricate routines of musicians over a hectic 21-day competition schedule, "Pianoforte" distills the essence of a worrisome yet thrilling journey into a 90-minute documentary. It beautifully weaves together quick, pulsating moments of pianists in performance, their hands nimbly streaking across piano keys, music thunderously filling the sequences, with extended scenes unfolding at a slower pace allowing us to savor the anxiety-filled moments of the competitors. The allure and despair of competitive spirit are vividly portrayed in Piatek's work.

Piatek locates the emotional kernel of the documentary not only in the high-stakes competition, but also in the musicians themselves. Although the ultimate scores are delivered by judges only on skill and technique, the documentary takes us on insightful trips into the individual lives of these young artists. The excerpts of the performers' lives oscillate between their dedication toward music and their longing to play sports and video games. Leonora Armellini, an upcoming musician from Italy, teases about the potential use of the winning prize for therapy – a subtle reference to the immense psychological pressure endured by the participants.

Pianoforte (2023) — Movie Review

The bond between the competitors and their tutors forms an engaging subplot. The film takes special note of Eva Gevorgyan from Russia, and Hao Rao from China, bringing into spotlight their distinct interaction with their instructors. Eva's mentor, embodying a stern and business-like approach, helps her troubleshoot her performances. On the other hand, Hao shares a warm and nurturing relationship with his instructor, who has been mentoring him from a very young age.

The documentary does not assert that one approach is superior to the other or stereotype the instructors. Instead, it offers a rounded picture of the lives of these brilliant pianists, allowing the viewers a glimpse into their world of mastering their craft from a tender age. "Pianoforte" is the portrayal of young artists asserting their dreams and marching onward, overcoming both physical and mental hardships.

Delving deep into the astounding determination of these artists and their relentless pursuit of the pinnacle, the documentary articulates, with understated elegance, the duality of the immense stress and the earned glory in this pursuit. Even as the judges zero in on the quantifiable metrics of skill and technique, “Pianoforte,” by underlining the relentless pressure that these young talents must grapple with, stands as a testament to their incredible resilience and extraordinary talent.


6 / 10

When music turns into warfare - A magnificent journey into the world of young pianists as they battle it out in the world-renowned Chopin Competition.