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'Pianomania' documentary impresses U.S. critics

November 7, 2011 |  9:00 am


"Pianomania" tells the story of Stefan Knüpfer, a chief technician and tuner at Steinway & Sons

"Pianomania" tells the story of a little-seen aspect of the classical piano world. Behind every great recital, there is a man such as Stefan Knüpfer, whose job is to make sure that the valuable instruments are in tune and as close to perfection as humanly possible.

Knüpfer is a chief technician and tuner at Steinway & Sons in Austria. The documentary follows him for a couple of years as he works with pianists including Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Lang Lang. Mostly, though, Knüpfer is shown by himself as he toils obsessively to ensure that his pianos match his high standards. It's a line of work that is often thankless and receives no applause.

"Pianomania," directed by Robert Cibis and Lilian Franck, debuted in Europe nearly two years ago and only opened this past weekend in the U.S. (The film is playing in the L.A. area at Laemmle's Royal Theatre in Westwood and Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.) Critics have been mostly positive about the movie, complimenting its in-depth look at an arcane aspect of classical music.

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the movie "details how stressful it can be to navigate a world where there is no such thing as an unreasonable demand." Knüpfer can do this so well "because he is as much of a crazed perfectionist as the pianists themselves, maybe even more so."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis wrote that "Knüpfer makes engaging company both because he keeps enviable company and because he’s a full-on geek ... it's a process movie and its emphasis is on how pianos are readied to be played, which ends up being enough." But at the same time, she wrote, the movie "can be stingy about furnishing background and context."

Dennis Harvey of Variety wrote that the movie "peels back a curtain to observe the meticulous, instinctive, sometimes downright flabbergasting attention that goes toward choosing and preparing keyboards played by world-class virtuosi." Classical fans will "be in heaven, while others should find this disarming documentary surprisingly absorbing."


Influences: Pianist Lang Lang

Music review: Pierre-Laurent Aimard at Disney Concert Hall

-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from "Pianomania," with Stefan Knüpfer, left, and Lang Lang. Credit: First Run Features