Ethan Hawke’s music-laden documentary ushers us into the company of octogenarian former concert pianist and tireless teacher Seymour Bernstein, and invites us to share his humour, vitality and penetrating wisdom.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
“Ethan Hawke directed this documentary, about Seymour Bernstein, a pianist, now in his late eighties, who, in 1977, renounced the duties and the anxieties of a public performer and became a piano teacher – by no means a lesser calling, as the film is at pains to prove. Even nonmusicians have been struck by the vigor of Bernstein’s wisdom, among them Hawke, who met him one evening and ‘felt kind of safe around him’. If anything, the sweetness of the subject’s nature and the gentle modulations of his speaking voice are so potent that it would seem not just uncivil but futile to contradict him; yet Hawke is too alert and too inquiring to let the movie subside into worship. The kindly surface is broken by brisker moments: clips of master classes, tryouts of different Steinways, memories of playing for front-line troops in Korea, and pedagogic advice that cuts hard against the American grain: ‘I’m not so sure that a major career is a healthy thing to embark upon,’ Bernstein says. Hawke is seeking not to reclaim a forgotten figure or to argue for his status but to follow his challenging lead.” — Anthony Lane, New Yorker
“It’s a study in boundless passion, plus a wellspring of wisdom about art and life from a man who sees no dividing line between the one and the other… He speaks softly though urgently in shapely paragraphs, never mind mere sentences, and holds out the shining promise – a believable one, coming from him – that with sufficient dedication, meaning the sort of hard work that great teachers always insist on, ‘music and life will interact in a never-ending cycle of fulfilment‘.” — Joe Morgenstern, Wall St Journal