As a trained pianist from early childhood through college, I can personally understand the obsession with perfection and the drive to be the best. Director Jakub Piątek captures this feeling in “Pianoforte,” his documentary about one of the most prestigious contests in the world of classical music: the International Chopin Piano Competition. Held in Poland every five years since 1927, the event has launched the career of many famous pianists, and it’s a gauntlet just to meet the strict qualifications. Only a few will make the cut, and the pressure can be overwhelming.
This is an observational documentary that starts to get tedious very early on. Piątek treats his camera like a spectator that hangs alongside the contestants. There are no formal interviews, just listening in on casual conversations and the performances. This style of filmmaking can actually feel stressful, especially as you are side-by-side with the pianists as they get ready for the most intense competition of their lives. The film captures the incredible amount of poise, talent, and preparation that is necessary to play. It also amps up the anxiety level of the audience.
With each musician just as talented as the last, it’s not just the classical piece that’s a masterpiece: it’s the pianists’ personal interpretations that breathe life into the notes on the page. It’s intoxicating to listen as each contestant gives the music a heartbeat, and all of their styles are different.
The film gets to know a few of the participants in this “Olympics of piano,” but none are all that interesting. The documentary falters when it focuses on downtime actives, like choosing a wardrobe or just hanging out. After hearing multiple subjects express the mental stress and pressure for perfection that they endure, it becomes more exhausting than compelling.
“Pianoforte” is a conventional documentary for people with a love for and an appreciation of classical music. In a way it could be argued that it’s inspiring, but as a piece of entertainment, it’s mostly draining.
By: Louisa Moore