God of the Piano

One of the funny things about independent or arty movies (or whatever you want to call those films which are made with a “selective appeal”) is that they are just as hidebound to tropes as mainstream popular films. And one of those tropes is the non-ending. That’s where a movie just stops. Like they ran out of film. Sometimes there is a good character arc, perhaps subordinate to the main action of the film, and so you don’t mind a non-ending because well, there really is an ending, it’s just subtler. You know more or less how the character is going to handle things, so you don’t need to see it.

But sometimes—all too often—it feels like the movie is trying to avoid any drama or resolution because, well, that stuff is hard.


The eponymous deity with his not-grandson. (It’s complicated.)

Here we have the story of a concert pianist, a young woman who is playing in a concert when her water breaks. She is seeking validation from her father, which is not forthcoming because she (and almost everyone else, apparently) lacks the artistic flare that separates the great from the technicians. But that’s okay, apparently, because she’s giving birth to a child who will fulfill all these dreams.

Only the child is deaf.

Now, the capsule for this movie suggested that she was driven by a merciless tyrant of a father, and the deaf child learns music but ends up rebelling against the grandfather.  This sounds like a kind of kickass movie, but that capsule is not accurate and what we got was much worse and much more banal.

This is a “woman in crisis behaving badly” movie which is just beloved of Indie filmmakers, I think, because you can reframe every awful action as stunning and brave, or something.

Stunning! Brave!

The morning after a stunning and brave adulterous affair.

As it turns out, our protagonist (the lovely Naama Preis) resolves the challenge of having a deaf baby by swapping it with one with good hearing. Flash-forward 12 years later and she’s been raising a child who looks nothing like anyone in her family. But he is a really good piano player and composer. She’s ultra-stressed out because he’s applied to the Best Conservatory In Israel and he needs to audition, and everything has to go perfectly!

So naturally she’s making everyone miserable, including her long suffering husband. She goes to further and further extremes, made worse by the fact her father is on the approval committee. Worse, not better.

But this woman is not well. She has a perfectly fine husband, handsome and virile, but she’s a groupie at heart, as we all too explicitly see. It all amounts to nothing, of course. And when it all amounts to nothing, she goes to spy on the deaf child she abandoned, who looks at her like the weirdo she is.

And…roll credits.

It’s not bad, really, on a lot of levels. The Flower did not care for it—it was a big letdown from the basically benign Tel Aviv on Fire—but The Boy and I understand this genre and can appreciate it. I liked it less as it wore on as there appeared to be no reason for this desperation on her part. And she is desperate to get this approval from her father, who is rather particular but not especially forceful. I mean, you’d think, from the capsule that he was beating her because she failed him, constantly being derogatory, but we never really see anything of the sort.

She doesn't look quite happy.

Watching her not-son and a concert with her brother.

There’s a run-in he has with his grandson where he wants the boy to play it one way and the boy insists it’s better the way he’s playing it, which is about as fundamental a thing a musician can do—play it their own way—and it results in…well, nothing but the boy playing things his own way. No drama, no violence, just a mild disagreement. Does the grandfather file this away to punish the boy later? Well, maybe? But not in any way the boy cares about, even if his mom lives and dies on it.

Grandfather is obdurate, at worst. And the story is really daughter trying to appease father, but the father doesn’t seem to be clamoring for appeasement. So we just see this woman spiraling into increasing levels of misery, ruining her life.

And I think the only thing that really annoyed me was that I didn’t really get that there was a character arc here. Is she just as crazy as she was at the beginning of the movie? Is she going to come to terms with the awful things she has done?

That, to me, felt like a cheat.

On the plus side, the lack of an ending makes it easy to bring in the movie at 80 minutes so, mazel tov.

We would follow this up with the very hard to see Forgiveness which would be one of the best films of the year.

I mean, they all look like Winston Churchill.

Eh. One baby’s as good as the next, right?

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