An unlikely hit, this is the remarkable but true story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, whose skills
were virtually unfulfilled after an oppressive upbringing and subsequent mental instability.
We first meet the adult David(Rush-marvellous), knocking on the window of a bar and making the aquaintance of the staff. Immediately obvious is the eccentric personality that makes the viewer a little uncomfortable. Mental illness has been portrayed on film before, but Helfgott's personality is wild but very likeable- and by all accounts Geoffrey Rush's characterization is very accurate. He is no tragic or pathetic figure, he is a remarkable pianist, and his story is uplifting because he found a way to express himself once again. However, this first scene is a bit uneasy as we are not sure how to take him. The film then cuts back to the young David, and his overbearing father(Mueller-Stahl) at a musical talent show. David's skills are recognized by a piano teacher, and David is on his way.
David is portrayed by three actors, a young child, Geoffrey Rush and the equally excellent Noah Taylor. As Taylor's David gains more recognition, he has opportunities to study abroad, but Father won't let him go, as he wants to control David. Eventually David rebels and goes to London's Royal College of Music where he meets teacher Sir John Geilgud- still doing good work in his 90s(I think he's in his 90s anyway.) However, a tussle with Rachmaninov's difficult 3rd concerto leaves David severely affected, and a return to Oz merely results in another rejection from Dad.
We jump forward 20 years or so to the adult David(Rush) in a residential home, and the last section of the film deals with his rebirth as he arrives at that bar again, but soon demonstrates his piano virtuosity. He later meets and marries Gillian(Redgrave) and starts performing again.
This is a facinating, touching and funny story, expertly played particularly by Taylor and Rush. They show David as a real and complex person. Armin Mueller-Stahl is an incredibly menacing figure, forceful and manipulative, but only violent in a couple of brief scenes. He is portrayed as very hard man that played a large part in screwing David up. There was a little controversy about this account by some members of the Helfgott family however. He is undoubtedly the main influence in David's life.
The film is well written and well paced as we follow David's growth as a musician. His odd behaviour is built gradually and realistically. The one inexplicable event for me though, was why Gillian, who already had a fiance, would so swiftly marry the charming, but very unstable David. Did she really see it in the stars, or was there more to it? Presumably there must have been.
More fun and more believable than Rainman, director Hicks has done an excellent job, avoiding sentimentality or mawkishness. The film has also had the effect of reawakening interest in the real David Helfgott. His musical career has been reborn, with concert tours planned. This is a facinating examination of a genius touched by madness. Helfgott is a fast talking, chain smoking, sweet innocent. This film is an unexpectedly unlifting experience. Great story, good performances, well directed. Worth seeing. 8/10