Opening January 21, 2016
Directed by: Cosima Lange
Writing credits: Cosima Lange
Principle actors: Documentary with David Helfgott, Gillian Helfgott, Nils Ruben, Matthias Foremny, Scott Murray, Walter Hitz, Peter Hess, Heike Hess, Rolf Verres
In this documentary we meet concert pianist David Helfgott on a 2015 European tour with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Matthias Foremny. The film swings back and forth between actual performances, Helfgott’s private life, and his background. Born 1947 in Australia, it was soon clear that he was a child prodigy pianist. His father guided his education and refused to allow him to accept a scholarship in the U.S., when he was 16. At age 19 he was allowed to accept a scholarship in London and, four years later in 1970, played in the Royal Albert Hall. Shortly afterwards he suffered an emotional breakdown and returned to Australia where he underwent psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia and manic depression for over ten years.
Now he performs beautifully, but still he is “different.” He rattles on like a small child, touches people near him, “steals” their ballpoint pens, and mumbles while playing with an orchestra in public. His English is difficult to understand so that subtitles are welcome. We meet important people in his life: his wife Gillian and Scott Murry, her son by a former marriage. Peter Hess is his musical therapist and Rolf Verres is his psychiatrist (and also plays the piano). He says, “The world needs people who are different.”
If the story seems familiar, perhaps you are thinking of the 1996 film Shine, a docudrama directed by Scott Hicks about the life of Helfgott in which Geoffrey Rush plays the pianist and for which he won an Oscar for best actor. This film is especially interesting for anyone who likes documentaries or classical music (10 musical presentations) or coping with life under difficult circumstances. Helfgott played in Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle on November 19, 2015. Hopefully, he will return soon. (Becky T.)