Itay Tal’s gripping Hebrew-language movie, God of the Piano, which is now available on DVD and digital outlets like iTunes and Amazon, fleshes out themes such as ambition, disappointment, deception and obsession.
His central character, a pregnant pianist named Anat (Naama Preis), embodies these qualities. Sitting at home in front of her piano, she pours out her passion into a rousing piece, her amniotic fluid breaking and trickling down her leg in a shallow pool.
In the next scene, she is writhing in agony as she gives birth to her first child, a bouncing boy. The sight of him brings a glimmer of a smile to her face.
Shortly afterward, she’s in a state of sorrow, having been told that her baby is hearing impaired. Somewhat later, she tests the truth of that message by clapping her hands loudly near the boy’s ear. Alas, he is deaf to the world.
One immediately understands why she’s disappointed. Ambitious musicians like herself are often hopeful that their children will inherit their talent, if not their interest, in music. Being deaf, this child has no future as a musician.
Yet Anat does not succumb to despair. While still in the hospital, she decides to switch babies. It’s an audacious and unethical scheme, but she’s desperate. Her husband, not having been privy to her subterfuge, has already registered himself and Anat for sign language classes.
Fast forwarding 12 years, the film takes us to the present day. Anat’s son, Idan (Andy Levi), is turning out to be a prodigy. He can play the piano marvellously well, and Anat is proud of his prowess at the keyboard.
Anat’s father, a pianist, recognizes Idan’s talents, but he’s critical of his interpretation of a piece that he, the grandfather, composed years ago. His lukewarm appraisal of his grandson’s ability will come into play toward the close of the film.
In the meantime, Anat’s quest to enrol Idan in a prestigious conservatory seems on track. Idan manages to impress three judges with his effortless rendition of a composition he supposedly wrote.
Expecting a quick response from the conservatory, Anat grows increasingly nervous and downcast when an acceptance letter from the academy fails to arrives. Thinking she can accelerate the process, she approaches Raphael Ben-Ari (Shimon Mimran), a respected pianist and piano teacher who wields influence at the conservatory. The price he demands for his assistance places Anat in a moral quandary, at least for a while.
As a last resort, she asks her father for help, but he’s not prepared to be useful.
Tal directs God of the Piano with the ease of a veteran. Preis, in particular, delivers a commanding performance as an overly ambitious, slightly myopic person who can’t tell the difference between the trees and the forest.
The emotions in this film are genuine, which is why it leaves a viewer quite satisfied.