Film Review: Piano to Zanskar

Mr Gentle and piano

There’s something rather appealing, and slightly worrying, about an eccentric English gentleman. Clearly well-educated and from a ‘good stock’, he saunters through life with flights of fantasy; always willing to share his dreams and stories with anyone who will listen. Nowadays, the adventurer is a dying breed. Certainly, in the sense of undertaking unusual and dangerous journeys. However, every so often someone comes along who is driven to do something extraordinary.

Desmond O’Keeffe, aka Mr Gentle, is one such dreamer. When faced with the prospect of a lazy retirement “sitting in deck chairs and eating lemon drizzle cake” the piano tuner has other ideas. He embarks from his workshop in Camden Town to transport a hundred-year-old upright piano to a primary school in Lingshed, Zanskar. 14,000 feet above sea level and nestled in the mountains of Indian administered Ladakh, it’s one of the most isolated settlements on Earth. Piano to Zanskar tells the story.

Piano to Zanskar is a beautifully shot documentary which documents a heroic quest to bring music to a remote outpost. Accompanied by two young assistants and a supporting crew, he is determined to complete the task, regardless of the danger posed to both person and piano. Michal Sulima’s film is charming and empathetic. While the focus is on the central story, he’s not shy to show the people surrounding it. Piano to Zanskar is a beguiling little picture.

Piano to Zanskar is out in cinemas on 19 November.

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