Woman Without Piano (2009)

23 Apr

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FIPRESCI award-winning director Javier Rebollo teams up with Spanish TV stalwart Carmen Machi for an atmospheric character study that touches on feelings of helplessness and discontent and the lengths some people will go to define their existence.

Machi is Rosa, a middle-aged Madrid housewife who wiles away her time watching daytime television and tending to trite chores; Rebollo neatly highlights the banality of her routine with shots of a made bed and a plate of food. She has long, tedious conversations with people she doesn’t want to speak to: a salesman on the phone, an unhelpful woman at the post office. It all makes for a fairly miserable and meandering existence, which Rebollo emphasises by filling the picture with shots of clocks highlighting the slow passage of time. Yet when night falls, Rosa appears to lead a secret life and donning a wig she disappears into the night.

Rosa’s night-time sojourn effectively consists of a series of fleeting, pragmatic encounters with a random selection of people and it’s deliberately ambiguous where she’s going and — more pertinently — why. The sparse script, co-penned by Lola Mayo and Rebollo, adds to the feeling of uncertainty surrounding Rosa’s motivations, as barely one meaningful word is ever spoken. But it’s apparent that Rosa is trying to instill a degree of excitement and meaning into her life, despite the fact that her escape is almost as bland as her everyday life.

Bonding with a kindred spirit (Polish oddball Roberto, played by Jan Budar), Rosa flirts with the idea of following through with a genuine escape, intrigued as she is by Roberto’s flighty motives while flagrantly ignoring her own issues. Yet Rosa’s constant and mysteriously unanswered phone calls betray her unwillingness to make a real change, bound as she is by her life however unhappy or helpless she feels. It’s an insightful comment on the realities of how many people live their lives; pining for change but ultimately accepting of the status quo.

While Rebollo’s tale is highly personal, his script and direction keep the audience at arm’s length. It’s observational and inferred, indicative of Rosa’s veiled persona. Machi’s skillful and understated turn lends Rosa an air of mystery, while Budar provides commendable support as fellow lost soul Roberto. “Woman Without Piano” may be melancholy, solemn and pensive, but it’s also a beautiful, thoughtful and intriguing picture.

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