About Canto: Film Review

A cult piano concerto changes the lives of its listeners in fascinating ways that stretch the limits of credibility.

Anyone unfamiliar with Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt and his cult piano concerto "Canto Ostinato" (1976-79) will either be running to the music store or running out of the theater after seeing the life-changing effects this minimalist composition has on its listeners. In About Canto, documaker Ramon Gieling (who has tackled the composer before) talks about his hypnotic music through the people who love it most, many of whom listen to it regularly at home or travel to see performance after performance. Interviewees describe how it has caused miracles in their lives, stretching the viewer’s credulity but always entertaining with one tall tale after another. Arts festivals will certainly want to turn their ears Gieling’s way.

The film rapturously pours over the 106 bubbling cells of ten Holt’s famous score, often performed with four unhurried pianos squaring off in odd concert spaces. The cells can be long or short and can be repeated at the pianist’s discretion, which means that concerts often last two or three hours. The ones glimpsed here seem to have a ritualistic allure for their listeners, whose trance-like expressions show how deeply they sink into the music.

Alongside the more predictable interviews with pianist Kees Wieringa and a music cognition scientist, Gieling intercuts strange stories, like a distressed woman who gives birth to the sound of "Canto Ostinato," and another lady who gets divorced over it. A letter from Canada suggests that the writer’s brother committed suicide – happily and quietly – after coming to terms with life through Canto. It’s disturbingly hard to draw the line between fact and fiction in this curious doc, which is probably best taken as the filmmaker’s love song to a favourite piece of music.

Venue: IDFA Film Festival (competing), Nov. 22, 2011.

Production companies: Eyeworks Film & TV Drama, Prime Time
Director: Ramon Gieling
Screenwriter: Ramon Gieling
Producers: Janneke Doolaard
Director of photography: Goert Giltay
Art direction: Vincent de Pate
Editor: Patrick Janssens
Sales Agent: Eyeworks Film & TV Drama
No rating, 78 minutes.