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The Piano (1993)

Cast: Holly Hunter, Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, more...
Director: Jane Campion, Jane Campion
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Studio: Live/Artisan
Genre: Drama, Foreign, Costume Drama/Period Piece, Australia & New Zealand
Running Time: 121 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English
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Writer/director Jane Campion's third feature unearthed emotional undercurrents and churning intensity in the story of a mute woman's rebellion in the recently colonized New Zealand wilderness of Victorian times. Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), a mute who has willed herself not to speak, and her strong-willed young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) find themselves in the New Zealand wilderness, with Ada the imported bride of dullard land-grabber Stewart (Sam Neill). Ada immediately takes a dislike to Stewart when he refuses to carry her beloved piano home with them. But Stewart makes a deal with his overseer George Baines (Harvey Keitel) to take the piano off his hands. Attracted to Ada, Baines agrees to return the piano in exchange for a series of piano lessons that become a series of increasingly charged sexual encounters. As pent-up emotions of rage and desire swirl around all three characters, the savage wilderness begins to consume the tiny European enclave. Campion imbues her tale with an over-ripe tactility and a murky, poetic undertow that betray the characters' confined yet overpowering emotions: Ada's buried sensuality, Baines' hidden tenderness, and Stewart's suppressed anger and violence. The story unfolds like a Greek tragedy of the Outback, complete with a Greek chorus of Maori tribesmen and a blithely uncaring natural environment that envelops the characters like an additional player. Campion directs with discreet detachment, observing one character through the glances and squints of another as they peer through wooden slats, airy curtains, and the spaces between a character's fingers. She makes the film immediate and urgent by implicating the audience in characters' gazes. And she guides Hunter to a revelatory performance of silent film majesty. Relying on expressive glances and using body language to convey her soulful depths, Hunter became a modern Lillian Gish and won an Oscar for her performance, as did Paquin and Campion for her screenplay. Campion achieved something rare in contemporary cinema: a poetry of expression told in the form of an off-center melodrama. ~ Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

This movie totally works for me by Texan99 September 4, 2010 - 6:45 PM PDT
1 out of 1 members found this review helpful
The movie opens with Holly Hunter's character Ada being dropped off on a wild 19th-century New Zealand shore with her daughter and her piano. The director serenely declines to explain why Ada stopped speaking at the age of 6, but it's clear this is only one of the many ways she manifests her profound core of rebellious non-linear logic. This unmarried woman has taught her young daughter to translate her mother's idiosyncratic sign language to the outside world, so the messages pass through not only Ada's skewed consciousness but that of the daughter, who's clearly been raised in isolated symbiosis with her odd, stubborn mother. The two are left alone on the beach with the piano for some time before they are met by the man Ada has been sent to marry (this being the best marriage her family could arrange for their unfathomable daughter and her probably illegitimate child). This opening scene, in which the little girl creates beautiful spiral patterns in the sand with shells and Ada creates a little tent-world out of her hoop skirt, lets us know we're in for a lot of primal femininity that operates purely on a visual and instinctive level. When Ada's intended husband arrives, he shows he is unequipped to reach Ada on any level by making the abrupt practical decision to abandon the piano on the beach. It falls to his European helper (Harvey Keitel), who's gone considerably native under the influence of the nearby Maoris, to forge a bond with Ada. He does this by bringing the piano to his cabin and luring Ada there for what begins as a crude transaction for sex. Soon, however, Keitel realizes that he doesn't want a prostituted relationship; he wants the soul of this inexplicable, silent woman, whose repressed, stolid husband can't begin to make the tiniest sense of her. Michael Nyman composed the lovely music with which Ada communicates her nonverbal passion.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.09)
334 Votes
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