the fresh films reviews

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Shine (1996)

Scott Hicks



105 minutes

Jane Scott
Scott Hicks

Cast includes:

David Helfgott Geoffrey Rush
Peter (David's father) Armin Mueller-Stahl
David Helfgott (adolescent) Noah Taylor
Gillian Helfgott Lynn Redgrave
Katharine Susannah Prichard Googie Withers
Sylvia Sonia Todd -
Ben Rosen Nicholas Bell -
Cecil Parkes John Gielgud



This is one of the most important and insightful films of 1996, and arguably the best musical biopic since Milos Forman's Amadeus from 1984. This time it's not a world-famous, legendary composer we get to meet, but an unusual piano talent and his road to failure. His name is David Helfgott, and he is embodied here, heart and soul, by Noah Taylor (as an adolescent) and Geoffrey Rush (as an adult). From Helfgott's mental illness starts to manifest itself during his teen years, propelled by a typically harsh mid-20th century upbringing and an abrasive relationship with his father Peter (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the film's juxtaposition of Helfgott's award-winning talent and the hopelessness he feels facing the world gives Shine an irresistible bittersweet quality which director Scott Hicks milks and utilizes expertly, but never without a genuine concern for his subject. Noah Taylor's performance as the young Helfgott is masterful. He exhibits in a subdued manner Helfgott's ambivalence in relation to almost every person in his life, even those who had an obvious positive influence on him, such as his London music teacher Cecil Parkes (John Gielgud). It is Taylor who lays the foundation for Geoffrey Rush's final half-hour of trying to pick Helfgott up in order to find his place in life again, well helped by his girlfriend Gillian (Lynn Redgrave) and his rediscovered love for music and the piano. The latter is, of course, the real message of the film. It's an obvious but at the same time so universal and healing message that it everyone will and should embrace it, claims Hicks. And in the film's wonderful finale, Shine is also able to be an uninhibited celebration of our inherent idiosyncrasy as human beings. Hicks ultimately wants to underplay the pathological aspect of Helfgott's being, which to me feels like a sensible human approach. Shine film is a love story in the broadest sense.

End note: The music in Shine is mainly played by David Helfgott himself, making the soundtrack intimately beautiful. The musical highlight here is David's final concerto in London, where he plays Rachmaninoff with the 92-year-old Sir John Gielgud watching and listening enthusiastically. You've got to be in awe of this incredible British actor, who made his movie debut all the way back in 1924! Hang in there a few more years, Sir John. Your grandeur is perfect for films like this.

Copyright 8.10.1997 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
(English version: 09.04.2021 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang)