Bittersweet biography dealing with Australian concert pianist David Helfgott who suffered from mental illness. Most of the film concerns his formative years as a musical prodigy. He escapes the tyrannical rule of his father who disowns him after he departs for London upon being offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. Armin Mueller-Stahl makes an indelible impression as his domineering father in a truly unsympathetic portrayal. Helfgott’s ongoing obsession with executing Rachmaninoff’s technically demanding Piano Concerto No. 3 ultimately reaches an exhilarating manic apex. The narrative is a bit murky when it comes to Helfgott’s subsequent psychological breakdown. Are his problems caused by the virtually unplayable composition or the result of physical and mental abuse by his father? It’s never quite clear, but regardless, the scene that highlights the performance of this piece is a beautifully edited sequence of talent and dementia. Geoffrey Rush won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in the role of the virtuoso as an adult, but Noah Taylor actually registers much more screen time with his sensitive depiction as the adolescent David.
Archive for 1996
Dysfunctional family drama about people haunted by the past. Reportedly most of the performances were improvised with director Mike Leigh simply providing the actors with an outline of their characters. This makes Brenda Blethyn’s stunning performance all the more amazing, however it also explains the lack of focus that plagues the film. The surprising realization that forms the basis of the film, doesn’t even come to light until fully one hour into this overlong 142 minute film. The film recovers a bit, but by then it’s too little too late.