The Music of Strangers is an inspirational and joyous affirmation of the power of music to transcend cultural boundaries and unify.
The 2017 Perth International Film Festival is now in its final two weeks. The last two films, the masterful Iranian drama The Salesman and this irresistible doco, The Music of Strangers (from the director of the wonderful 20 Feet From Stardom, Morgan Neville), are perhaps the most enthralling in the program. What a way to go out!
Due to ongoing time constraints I’m late with this review, and will have to dash it down. To cut straight to the chase, I LOVED The Music of Strangers. I found the content so riveting, exhilarating and moving that I paid no attention to the film’s merits or otherwise as a documentary per se. If you’re after an objective, measured assessment from a chin-stroking, left-brain film buff type, look elsewhere. This is more rave than review.
The Music of Strangers focuses on the music and core members of classical cellist Yo-yo Ma’s multicultural musical project, The Silk Road Ensemble. Comprising musicians and instruments from a diverse range of cultures, the Ensemble initially formed for a one-off concert in Manhattan in 2000, but subsequently took on a life of its own, and has continued to evolve to the present day.
The line-up of musicians is fluid, except for some core members, four of whom feature here along with Ma. They’re all colourful characters, and none more so than mesmerising bagpiper Cristina Pato, who in her younger days was known as “the Jimi Hendrix of Galicia” due to her electrifying stage performances. Yeah, I know – a bagpiper? Just wait til you see her in action!
Age has not had much of a mellowing effect on Ms Pato. Her movements on stage are earthy, erotically charged, and she plays and sings with wild abandon. She’s a riveting stage presence, and as one of the other Ensemble members remarked, brings something to the group that no one else has. The same might be said of all the core members, but Pato is the visual standout.
While the personal stories of Ma, Pato and the other featured Ensemble musicians are fascinating (and in some cases, tragic), the magic of the film is in the live musical performances. The music is as unique as the concept of the Project, the virtuoso musicians from all over the globe finding common voice through a range of Western and traditional instruments never before combined.
However esoteric this may sound, the music is universal and accessible to all, reaching ecstatic heights, raging and blowing like a beautiful gale of singular harmonies. There’s a free-form sense about it reminiscent of jazz, but don’t hang that label on it. It’s nothing like any Western (or probably Eastern) musical genre. I’m not even sure whether the musicians are playing to a Western scale.
But who cares – see, the thing is, this music is irresistibly JOYOUS, perfectly articulating the concept and ethos of the Ensemble. One of the factors that prompted the continuation of the group was 9/11. The members felt that there was a need to respond to the fear and hate and division that gripped the world in the wake of the attack with an expression of cultural unity, with creativity rather than destruction, with hope rather than despair. This is what the Silk Road Ensemble is about, and at its heart, so is this inspirational doco.
If you love music, you’ll love The Music of Strangers. It’s as simple as that.
Let the light in. Go. What’s 96 mins to restore your hope in humankind worth?
The Music of Strangers screening dates (2016-17 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival):
ECU Joondalup Pines: Tue 4–Sun 9 Apr 2017, 7.30pm (note: no screening on Friday 7 April)
UWA Somerville: Mon 10–Sun 16 Apr 2017, 7.30pm
For a complete list of Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives