THE PIANO TUNER (Kira Muratova, 2004)

Although the combination of profuse dialogues and the declamatory style in which they are routinely delivered can induce a migraine, Kira Muratova’s Nastroyshchik, from Russia and Ukraine, is a dark, dazzling comedy about the dire fate into which the former Soviet Union has fallen in the wake of the nation’s collapse. Nastroyshchik derives from stories by A.F. Koshko.
     The key to grasping the socioeconomic vision that Muratova’s film discloses in considerable and compelling detail is a comment made by one of its major characters, Anna Sergeyevna (Alla Demidova, poignant): “The stratification of society today is terrible.” Additionally, the remark comes with a satirical edge, because Anna Sergeyevna is herself one of the privileged, not one of the left-behinds. She reeks of neo-tsarism with her expensive nick-knacks and assorted treasures. She has a little dog, a Pomeranian, reminding us, from tsarist times, of Chekhov’s “Lady with the Little Dog,” whose name she has been assigned.
     The former Soviet Union is portrayed as hell on earth. Andrei, a trained musician, tunes pianos because he must survive somehow. He also steals and insinuates himself into Anna Sergeyevna’s life in order to extract from her what benefit he can; along with his girlfriend, Lina, he contemplates murdering her. Masquerading as a census-taker, Lina steals the older woman’s valuable clock. Moreover, there are loan-sharking now and “homeless vagrants” who scrounge around in public garbage receptacles. (Lina invites a bag lady to dine with her in a restaurant, feeds her, but chillingly tells her, “In ancient times they made human sacrifices of people like you.”) The former Soviet Union has become a facsimile of the capitalistic United States.
     Andrei lives in an attic. To get to it one climbs a ladder off a spiral staircase that Muratova frames eccentrically, precariously.

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