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For Your Consideration: 'Le temps dérobé'

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Le temps dérobé, A. Tharaud, directed by Raphaëlle Aellig Régnier
(Erato, 2014)
Alexandre Tharaud, who last visited Washington in January, is an Ionarts favorite. The French pianist gave documentary filmmaker Raphaëlle Aellig Régnier (Les Villageois) permission to follow him in his travels and private life (up to a point) for a period of two years. The result, Le temps dérobé (from 2013, and released on DVD in 2014), is an intimate look at the performing life of the pianist, as we see his rituals in the green room before concerts, rehearsals with cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and orchestras (including Les Violons du Roy, with Bernard Labadie), his work with composer Gérard Pesson on a new piano concerto. Washingtonians had the chance to see the film, which has not been widely distributed, thanks to the always rewarding film series at the French Embassy, where it was screened on Wednesday night.

The film is known in English, for better or worse, as Behind the Veil. Its actual title, which could be translated as Stolen Time or Time Eclipsed, refers to what Tharaud says at one point in the movie, about why playing concerts is so important to him. There is in every concert, maybe only for a short time but both for him and the listeners, a moment where time is suspended. That is apparently what keeps him going on the crazy, lonely schedule of an international performer. The movie is divided into sections shot in various cities around the world, as his time is taken up with practicing, yoga, a visit to a massage therapist or chiropractor, listening intensely to his own recording takes, an interview by remote radio connection. A scene where Tharaud worries neurotically over the sound of a piano he will be playing, ministered to by a pair of piano technicians, is reminiscent of similarly sound-obsessed performers in Pianomania.

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No narration intervenes, and the music heard is never identified with subtitles. Listeners who know the piano repertoire will easily pick out most of what he plays: here are fragments of Debussy's Danseuses de Delphes, there is just the tantalizing opening of Couperin's Le Tic-Toc-Choc. It is not really a film for serious listeners, though, as no excerpt is longer than a minute. One hears both sections of the air from Bach's Goldberg Variations, which is pretty much the most extensive excerpt in the film. If you want to listen to how Alexandre Tharaud plays, you are going to be disappointed. If you want to see glimpses of him backstage and offstage and hear him speak about his life, in ways that border only occasionally on self-indulgence, the film hits the mark.

The next screening in the French Embassy's film series will be L'ombre des femmes, released last year by Philippe Garrel, this time at the Avalon Theater in Chevy Chase (January 20, 8 pm).

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