Spanish title: Grand Piano
Country: Spain (90%) | USA (10%)
Director: Eugenio Mira
Produced by Adrián Guerra and Rodrigo Cortés for Nostromo Canarias 1 AIE (84%), Nostromo Pictures (4%), Atresmedia Televisión (1%), Telefónica Producciones (1%), Grand Piano Productions (10%)
Story and screenplay: Damien Chazelle
Music: Víctor Reyes
Cinematographer: Unax Mendia
Editor: José Luis Romeu
Art director: Jaime Anduiza
Cast: Elijah Wood (Tom Selznick), John Cusack (Clem), Kerry Bishé (Emma Selznick), Tamsin Egerton (Ashley), Allen Leech (Wayne), Don McManus (Norman Reisinger), Alex Winter (Assistant), Dee Wallace (A & V Interviewer), Jim Arnold (Janitor), Jack Taylor (Patrick Godureaux), Beth Trollan (Emma’s Publicist), Amy Gwilliam (Emma’s Assistant), Harris Gordon (Emma’s Agent), Ricardo Alexander (Executive), Brendan Murphy (Mover #1), Chak Nali (Customer Hotel), Eric Goode (Tom’s Chauffeur), Theo David Goertzen (Musician #1), Peter Bacchus (Musician #2), Geert Krosenbrink (Musician #3), Joshua Zamrycki (Crew Member), John Hugill (Gaffer), Benjamin Nathan-Serio (Usher), Núria Valls (Assistant at the Hotel), Rachel Arieff (Mother Picture), Emily Zamrycki (Girl Picture), Brian Lehane (Mover 2), Oscar Rodriguez (Insurance Man #1), Josep Caralt (Insurance Man #2), Julius Cotter (Insurance Man #3), Marvin Wycoff (Police Lieutenant), Juan Carlos Dannenberg (Elegant Man), Alba Mestre (Elegant Girl), Eric Gacacho (Kid Hallway), Eugenio Mira Esteve (Grandfather Hallway), Paula Ana Banciu (Musician On Set), Lynn Barton (Musician On Set), Joana Blanch (Musician On Set), Elena Borderías (Musician On Set), Xavier Bura (Musician On Set), Lluis Cabal (Musician On Set), Nabi Cabestany (Musician On Set), Miguel Casals (Musician On Set), Vladinir Chilaru (Musician On Set), Robert Citron (Musician On Set), Roderick Clantay (Musician On Set), Fernando Cleves (Musician On Set), Romeliu Dan (Musician On Set), Jaime Del Blanco (Musician On Set), Joan Esplugas (Musician On Set), Teresa Espuny (Musician On Set), Susana Fernandez (Musician On Set), Juame Francesch (Musician On Set), Francesc Gali (Musician On Set), Eliiecer Garcia (Musician On Set), Joaquim Giménez (Musician On Set), Harold Hincapie (Musician On Set), Yayoi Kagoshima (Musician On Set), Magoalena (Musician On Set), Kostrzewska (Musician On Set), Gerrit Krosenbrink (Musician On Set), Oleg Lachugin (Musician On Set), Rossen Lambrinov (Musician On Set), Joe Lewis (Musician On Set), Juan Marquez (Musician On Set), Antonio Marti (Musician On Set), Olga Mensenin (Musician On Set), Jose Monteagudo (Musician On Set), Jordi Nabona (Musician On Set), Vasil Nikolov (Musician On Set), Marcel Noll (Musician On Set), Eladio Reinon (Musician On Set), Francisco Rodriguez (Musician On Set), Juan Rodriguez (Musician On Set), Paul Southamer (Musician On Set), Kristen Tinkler (Musician On Set), Jorge Uribe (Musician On Set), Yulia Tsuranova (Musician On Set), Richard Vaughan (Musician On Set), Viesturs Vecbastiks (Musician On Set), Albert Vila (Musician On Set), Ingrid Viñals (Musician On Set), Ruslana Vinebreaci (Musician On Set), Ignacio Zamora (Musician On Set), Qiao Zhang (Musician On Set), Yana Zuyeva (Musician On Set), Franchesca McGill Perkins (Woman in audience), Óscar Rodríguez (Insurance Man #1), Laia Martinez Rubir (Journalist), Angie Arieu (Emma’s Admirer), Roberta Chung (Pedestrian), Catherine Dickson (Press Photographer), Malte Grohnert (Opera Guest), Christopher Kahler (Squinchy – The Lords of Uifam band member), Hrvoje Klecz (Audience Member), Don Kress, Mino Mackic (Theater Security), Jose Mellinas (Bystander), Nuria Pascual-Andujar (Emma’s Friend #2), Jeff Sealy (Snake – The Lords of Uifam band member), Vince Tolentino (Taxi Driver)
Spanish takings: €595.992,12
Spanish spectators: 94.415
Spanish subsidies: Ayudas a la Amortización de Largometrajes – General (€1.287.964,54)
Elijah Wood plays a concert pianist who is making a high-profile comeback after suffering a crippling attack of stage-fright. It’s not the ideal time, therefore, for him to find messages scribbled on his score warning him that if he gets as much as a single note wrong then both he and his wife (Kerry Bishé) will be killed. So he’s left with the dual challenge of both putting in a flawless performance while also at the same time working out just who it is who’s threatening him and, more importantly, why.
Despite its largely American cast, Grand Piano is another in the stream of recent Spanish productions which take an intriguing if somewhat leftfield central conceit and build it up into a stylish, effective and entirely unlikely film. I like to think of these films as updated and far superior versions of Tales of the Unexpected, with examples including thrillers (The Body, The Hidden Face), dramas (The Skin I Live In) and horror (REC). Suffice to say, in my opinion the best films being made at the moment are coming out of Spain; it’s just a crying shame that so few people actually get to see them (although Grand Piano did actually get a brief release in the UK, probably because of the high profile names involved).
Needless to say it’s all entirely preposterous but, if you can accept the gaps in logic, a highly enjoyable affair. It looks brilliant, with cinematographer Unax Mendia’s camera swirling and prowling constantly, while director Eugenio Mira (who has a good track record with the intriguing Timecrimes (2007) and Agnosia (2010)) channels Dario Argento and Brian De Palma to good effect. Elijah Wood makes for a very likable protagonist, John Cusack does his now standard sweaty psychopath thing and it’s nice to see some genre staples (Jack Taylor, Dee Wallace, Alex Winter from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (!)) in smaller roles. It might not be the best Spanish film of recent years – and in all honesty it’s not quite as interesting as Mira’s previous work – but it’s still an accomplished and effective thriller.
Review by Matt Blake, 2016
What the critics said
“The cinemas are full of them: films with no ending. Films which are just good ideas for film, just pitches. Films with no third act, maybe even no second act. Grand Piano is like this, a ramshackle attempt at classic Hitchcockian suspense that I think has no acts at all: it’s just a trailer or a pre-credit sequence. It’s more like a billboard than a film. But the introductory scenes do have a certain enjoyable flair before it all collapses into gibberish.” Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.
“Mira’s direction is key. Channelling the style of Brian De Palma with split screens, stomach-churning swoops and operatic violence, he manages to keep you engaged, even if the plot and slapdash script stretch credulity to the point of parody.” Patrick Smith, The Telegraph.
“Spanish director Eugenio Mira has acknowledged his debt to the cymbal-clanging climax in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. But there is a sumptuous lurid sensibility lurking as well, from the sweeping camera choreography to the art-deco style fan of crimson amid gold and black that forms the stage backdrop. Think of it as a diabolical blend of Brian De Palma and Dario Argento by way of “The Phantom of the Opera”.” Susan Wloszczyna, RogerEbert.com.
“The sort of flamboyant, high-concept, destined-for-minor-cultdom thriller Brian De Palma might have cranked out around the time of Snake Eyes, this sees Elijah Wood sitting down in front of a piano and learning that if he plays a note wrong, a sniper will put a bullet in his head. A daft premise, yes, but the cast sell it (Bill & Ted’s Alex Winter is a highlight as a lackadaisical minion) and Spanish director Eugenio Mira (The Birthday) has a witty way with visuals. Watch out for a violin-based match cut that would make Hitchcock shiver with delight.” Nick De Semlyen, Empire.
“Directing is telling something by following a rhythm, in a concrete manner. Whilst Bergman and Hitchcock told different stories, they had to use their camera in a similar way, like you necessarily hold a microphone in one way at any concert. Cinema is a technique, just like playing the piano. I would never have written Grand piano. The screenwriter, Damien Chazelle, was supposed to direct it, but then he stopped thinking about it because he moved on to another project and he was advised to put it on the market, because while it still had issues that needed to be resolved, the buyer could take care of it. I came and seized the project. Grand piano is a 100% directing film. My childhood dream of having someone write a screenplay for me came true and I am very happy about it.” Interview: Eugenio Mira, Cineurope