Tomasz Magierski's excellent documentary about the 2005 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw perfectly captures the joys and sorrows of musical competitions. Focusing on the American contingent of four young pianists, Magierski shows how the competition challenges, thrills, and disappoints them during the thirty-day event.
Interwoven with conservations with Sean Kennard, Rachel Kudo, Esther Park, and Mei-Ting Sun are their rehearsals, performances, and travels about Warsaw, as well as interviews with pianists/teachers Edward Aldwell, Agustin Arievas, Seymour Bernstein, Enrique Graf, Yoheved Kaplinsky, Emilio del Rosario, Ruth Slenczynska, and Susan Starr. Magierski contrasts the innocence of the competitors with the wisdom of their mentors. Bernstein complains that pianists should not be judges at such events because of the possibility of personal agendas. The comments of these veterans balance the unformed personalities of the young pianists, among whom Sun stands out for being more articulate, and slightly arrogant. He fully expected to win.
Magierski's previous documentary was Arkadius: Wild Orchid Dreams (2000), about a young Polish fashion designer in London. The director clearly has an affinity for the aspirations of the young and the hard work required to attain their goals. He strives to make Pianists—Defining Chopin cinematic, speeding up the footage of the competitors sitting down to begin their performances to emphasize the assembly-line quality of the event and using an artistically composed overhead angle of a judge making notes about a performance. Editor Tomoko Oguchi never lets any scenes or shots linger too long as the film speeds nimbly through its eighty-seven minutes.
Chopin himself receives considerable attention, with the commentators discussing the difficulty of playing his music. Kaplinsky explains how the composer's works are "the bread and butter for any pianist." Entertaining and insightful, Pianists—Defining Chopin will be a valuable addition to any DVD collection.