December 09, 1996 12:00 PM

Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor

From Australia comes one of the best movies of 1996. Shine, directed by Scott Hicks, is based on the life of David Helfgott, now 49, a classical pianist whose career plunged into echoing silence when he suffered a colossal nervous breakdown in his early 20s. He didn’t recover for two decades. The psychological catalyst in the collapse is his relationship with his Polish-Jewish father (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a crushing but sorrowful brute obsessed with relatives lost in the Holocaust. Mueller-Stahl drives his son to be a great pianist, but as soon as young Helfgott begins to win national recognition and receive scholarship offers from abroad, his father inexplicably accuses him of abandoning the family. When Mueller-Stahl locks his frail son in an embrace and whispers, “No one can ever love you as well as I do,” it’s a grossly uneven spiritual tug of war. It’s soul murder.

None of this synopsis conveys the emotional pull of Shine, which has to be seen for the remarkable performances by Taylor, disintegrating before our eyes as the doomed boy pianist, and by Rush as the musician grown, a tragic agglomeration of tics and stammers. Only at the very end, standing once again before a cheering concert audience and weeping helplessly, does Rush reveal the depth of Helfgott’s anguish. He is a prisoner finally released into the light. (PG-13)

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