The Chopin Competition takes place over 21 grueling days, and Piatek effectively compresses the stress and stamina of those hours into about 90 minutes of runtime. The pacing of “Pianoforte” hops and skips between quick cutting montages of the pianists in performance, their fingers expertly and vigorously striking keys, music thunderously occupying the sequences, and slow-moving long takes of nerve-wracked musicians fidgeting, pacing, practicing, and ruminating over minute details with their maestros. The spirit of competition, in both its heart-racing fulfillment and overwhelming drolls of anticipation, is felt in the thoughtful execution of “Pianoforte.”
Yet the human aspect of the film isn’t neglected. Though the judges score these kids on skills and technique alone, Piatek’s lens takes a further interest in them individually. The young pianists have a varied attitude towards their art forms; some possess immeasurable drive motivated by passion, and others truck forward with an almost indignant devotion. Some lament being forbidden from participating in sports, as their parents deem it a “vulgar” activity, while others declare their desire to relax and play video games. Leonora Armellini, a young musician from Italy, jokes that the winning pianist may have to put the prize money into therapy. And so, while “Pianoforte” is a document of youthful ambition and the intense work ethic of classical music’s up-and-comers, it also functions as a coming-of-age film.
Similarly diverse are the relationships between the competitors and their instructors. “Pianoforte” examines many pianists but focuses largely on Eva Gevorgyan, from Russia, and Hao Rao, from China, likely because their personal dispositions and student-teacher dynamics are quite disparate. Eva’s instructor is the prototype of a tough love, all-business approach. She applies pressure, interrupts Eva’s playing with loud claps to signify mistakes, and when Eva becomes emotional, tells her to do it away from cameras, to act happy, and to cry at home.