Piano to Zanskar (2018): A Step Up From Chopsticks



Scaling the dangerous octaves of the Himalayas with an antique instrument in tow, Sulima’s Piano to Zanskar (2018) documents the most high-altitude musical delivery in world history. Orchestrated by established London tuner Desmond Gentle, the film follows the devil-may-care 65-year-old and his young companions as they improvise a grueling journey to the community of Lingshed – said to be the most remote settlement on the globe. With help from local volunteers, they chart the ups and downs of an iconic mountain range; summoning up depths of creativity and human perseverance along the way.
Despite the eccentricity of the title task, the film maintains a stripped back approach that allows Mother Nature to sing through shots of peaky rock faces and lush oasis valleys. Piano to Zanskar (2018) observes the beauties and perils of the Himalayas while remaining wary of its scathing winds and unforgiving slopes; inclines which on one occasion threaten to end the whole thing. This atmosphere makes for exposing drama, as various group personalities are communicated through intimate asides and portraits. Lifting the spirits of the expedition, the musical gifts of each person are modestly shared with audiences – whether by roaring Viking chants or one of Gentle’s original songs.


Unbelievably, the film offers an ending which is not only happy but downright serendipitous; as the passionate efforts of everyone involved seem to align in near-perfect harmony. On top of this, it captures a profound exchange between cultures that brings metropolis and isolation together with music. While historical feature film The Piano (1993) depicts an instrument destined for a white aristocrat being trundled through native New Zealand undergrowth, Piano to Zanskar (2018) shows people of material privilege hand-delivering a prized object to a village that places no value on monetary worth. As a result, the gesture celebrates the commonalities of the human race – with music serving a vital accompaniment to that chord.

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