The Silence Before Bach (2007, Pere Portabella)

Instead of playing The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach alongside another movie from Vogel’s chapter on editing, I followed it with another Bach movie. This one places delicious performance footage within little conceptual scenes, cutting between scenes and eras like it’s no big deal (“juxtaposing past and present as if they were attractions in a theme park” per Rosenbaum).

Player piano rolls and spins slowly around a gallery.

Blind piano tuner goes to work

European trucker tells his story to a rider at a roadside cafe, rider impossibly plays a Bach piece on harmonica.

Wigged pipe organist alone in St. Thomas church, where Bach is buried

Close-up on hands during a harpsichord performance, first-person camera.

Tour guide goes to work performing as Bach – no music in this one.

Another tour – a boat, then a subway car full of cellists.

Mendelsson’s man goes to the market in 1829, the apocryphal backstory of how some of Bach’s compositions were discovered being used as wrapping paper.

Evoking the Holocaust, “music hurts,” a piano silently falls into the sea.

Connections start getting pieced together: a cellist goes on a trip to St. Thomas and speaks with a female descendant of Bach, while her husband is calling the trucker to set up a difficult crane delivery of an antique piano.

Manohla Dargis:

The film demands engagement and a kind of surrender, a willingness to enter into a work shaped by correlation, metaphor and metonymy, by beautiful images and fragments of ideas, a work that locates the music in the twitching of a dog’s ears, in the curve of a woman’s belly, a child’s song and an adult’s reverie. Like the music it celebrates, this is a film made in glory of the world.