★★★★ - STUFF
- A charming love letter to the piano and all who play it.
-As the opening titles happily tell us, 30,000 aspiring nippers and the not-so-nipperish take piano lessons in Ireland every year. It's an astonishing number.
While the vast majority are children, there are also a fair few adult first-timers and returnees among the ivory-tickling hordes.
Making the Grade (the title implies a competitiveness which is joyously absent from the film) is writer, director and cameraperson Ken Wardrop's letter of love to the piano and all who play her.
Wardrop sets his cameras in place with a refreshing and relaxing formality of frame. There are no jittery and contrived hand-held shenanigans here. Wardrop is present to observe and to listen, which he does by making a minimal impact on his surroundings and subjects.
What emerges is a tableau and a tapestry of gorgeous, funny, occasionally moving and always perfectly human vignettes. The children are cheerfully precocious without ever seeming disrespectful of their teachers or the lesson's purpose, while the adults are mostly wry, insightful and charming.
As one pupil wrestles with a particularly impenetrable section of Bartok's Lament, he reflects that anyone who has tried to learn the piece will understand why it is so called. Making the Grade is a film about the love of music and why that love is so essential to being human.
If you have seen Wardrop's Mom and Me – in which he visited Oklahoma ("America's manliest state") to ask a selection of the local manhood what they love about their mothers – you will have reserved your ticket to Making The Grade already.
Without contrivance or any unearned sentiment, Wardrop goes out with his camera and his microphones, and comes home with a reason, again, to believe that human nature is not done with delighting us just yet.
Making The Grade is a little gem. Seeing it will make your day better. Promise.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF