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The prospect of a film about Martha Argerich will have pianoraks salivating copiously like a certain proverbial mutt. But those intent on beating a path to their nearest box office for a banquet of musical titbits will find little sustenance here. In this respect, there is more to be gleaned from Georges Gachot’s Evening Talks, or even Argerich’s brief appearance in João Moreira Salle’s biodoc of Nelson Freire. Instead, this is a film about the enigma that fiercely private Argerich presents to those around her and the (at times indefinable) bonds between mother and daughter – director and co-subject Stéphanie Argerich.

A blend of unflinching cinéma verité and participatory documentary, this is a subtle film, difficult to categorise. By weaving home movie footage she shot as a child with more recent film crew sections, Stéphanie invites the viewer to share remarkably intimate family moments: time spent with father Stephen Kovacevich, Argerich’s pre-concert jitters, and the unglamorous, gruelling elements of an itinerant musician’s life.

There are moments of humour (meditations on Martha’s outsize feet, Stéphanie and her sisters’ unorthodox upbringing), but the film is also tinged with melancholy. We truly feel the director wrestling with the weight of her titanic artist-parents and her struggle to find herself. This alongside fleeting glimpses of Martha’s battle with cancer, lost love – and the curious tale of an abducted daughter…

In the end, Argerich senior remains an enigma. Rather than showcasing her mother as a firebrand piano ‘goddess’, what daughter Stéphanie captures with tenderness and acuity is that she is, lest we forget, very mortal – a human being. Funny, tender, painful; a fascinating debut by a talented filmmaker to watch.

LEANDRO FERRACCIOLI Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing