(Air Date: Week Of 12/25/96)
There's a lot to love about the Australian film "Shine". Director Scott Hicks has taken the real-life story of Australian child prodigy pianist David Helfgott, and mined it for its human interest and universal themes, capturing the essence of a complex and fascinating man, and creating a film that hits you in the ol' solar plexus.
"Shine" is partly a study in what it's like to devote yourself singlemindedly to mastering what you love. That's what we see in the first two segments of the film, which show David Helfgott as a boy, then as an adolescent. The domineering shadow of David's father, an escapee from Nazi Germany, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl, hangs heavily over his son's life, especially during the childhood scenes in Australia. It's obvious that Helfgott, Senior, a frustrated musician himself, is deeply conflicted by his son's talent. He is fiercely proud of David, pushes him to compete, and vicariously lives his own dreams through young David's successes, but he's also jealous and possessive. The complexity of this parent/child relationship is a large part of the draw of this movie, showing how a burning love can be both life-giving, and destroying.
The adolescent David, played by Noah Taylor, nervous and without confidence when away from the keyboard, wins a scholarship to the London Conservatory of Music. The chance of a lifetime-- but Helfgott Senior forbids him to go. When David announces he'll go any way, there's a harsh scene where his father says he'll never again be his son.
David kicks up his heels in London, but also works maniacally to master the tough Rachmaninoff third piano concerto, called the RACH III, with a famous instructor played by John Gielgud. After performing the RACH III, David collapses under the strain of practice and the estrangement from his family.
Next we find the adult David Helfgott in a mental institution where he has spent many years, in a state of mental disturbance where he is unable to care for himself, but good-natured and harmless, if overly libidinous. Australian stage actor Geoffry Rush is brilliant in this role, somehow managing to get inside Helfgott and show his insecurity, his jitters, his appetites, his intelligence, and humor. Watching him move from the limbo of mental institutions back into the wide, wide world is a glorious experience, and we enjoy Lynn Redgrave's performance as an astrologer who figures prominently in David's life.
O.K., it's heartwarming, it makes you feel good, but "Shine" isn't sentimental or emotionally manipulative. In fact, it has a clean, astringent quality, sort of like freshly washed windows, that let the sun shine in-- and if that sounds good to you, see Shine.
Copyright 1996 Mary Weems
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