Duet for Solo Piano
(Canada, 72 min.)
Dir. Su Rynard
How do you portray the spirit of a shy avant-garde artist? Director Su Rynard, whose past works include the documentary feature on songbirds The Messenger, the semi-doc semi-fiction Kardia and video installations, has the right background to understand the life and career of the quietly brilliant Eve Egoyan. Over the past couple of decades, Egoyan has developed a reputation as a classical pianist of impeccable technique, specializing in rendering the work of such modern Canadian composers as Ann Southam and Linda Caitlin Smith. Both Southam and Smith are known for their minimalist but lyrical pieces, which match the sensibility of Egoyan to a tee.
Though they weren’t close, Rynard and Egoyan had known each other socially and it made sense that they would eventually collaborate. It was Egoyan who approached Rynard to document a year-long experiment in which the pianist would work on premieres of new pieces by modern Canadian composers while presenting herself in a new way as a performance artist/musician. Much of the focus of the first half of the film is on Egoyan trying her utmost to break out of her shell, moving on stage, making hand and facial gestures, and addressing either figures on a screen or in the imaginary audience that will eventually be there when the artistic evening is premiered.
Surrounding Egoyan as she works on her performance are dramaturge Joanne McIntyre, interdisciplinary artist Katherine Duncanson and producer Phil Strong. They and others form a circle of support for her as she attempts to create an outward public persona on stage. These intimate scenes are matched by sequences shot at Egoyan’s home as she makes Armenian food with her daughter Viva and spends time with her husband David Rokeby, an internationally recognized installation and interactive artist. Egoyan’s family has its roots in Armenia, a subject that has been explored in the cinema of her older brother Atom. For Eve Egoyan, Armenian culture can’t be found in her music but in some of her cooking, the ancient and dignified society still has a place.
As the film reaches its peak, we see the rehearsals becoming more intense, as she interprets music composed for her by such notables as Michael Snow, John Oswald, Nicole Lizée and Linda Catlin Smith. David Rokeby contributes a complex device that creates beautiful images on a screen composed through Egoyan’s playing of the piano. Much of the work is dazzling to this viewer, who admittedly loves contemporary music and Egoyan’s approach to it.
Su Rynard has created a film that matches Eve Egoyan. Both are artists, who go about making fine art without being overtly showy. Perhaps that’s why this film, by one Toronto artist about another, is being seen at Montreal’s Festival of International Films on Art (FIFA) rather than celebrated in their hometown.
Duet for Solo Piano premieres at Montreal’s FIFA*, which begins March 16 with screenings available nationwide. (But please check individual film pages as geographic availability may vary.)