The Piano

1993, Movie, R, 120 mins


A period love story with strange metaphysical inclinations, Jane Campion's THE PIANO garnered lavish--though not unanimous--critical acclaim and a raft of awards. This is a film of mysterious beauty and subtle passion, set in a past so alien it might as well be another galaxy and peopled with characters so odd it's hard to believe they're not real.

Ada (Holly Hunter), a 19th-century Scottish woman of formidable and eccentric intelligence who hasn't spoken since childhood, is sent with her gravely beautiful daughter Flora (Anna Paquin)--conceived out of wedlock and her mother's intermediary with the speaking world--to the wilds of New Zealand to marry Stewart (Sam Neill), a farmer whose spirit has been deformed by hardship and displaced decorum. Though speechless, Ada is a gifted pianist who plays with an intensity that simultaneously enthralls and frightens the average listener. Stewart refuses to have her piano hauled to his isolated farm, but Baines (Harvey Keitel), an uneducated Englishman gone native, buys the instrument and arranges for Ada to give him piano lessons in his hut. Their increasingly erotic liaison eventually transforms the lives of all concerned.

Though without explicit sex scenes, THE PIANO is intensely sensual--when Ada massages Stewart's bare flesh or plays for the naked Baines, the sexual charge is almost palpable--and Campion's eye is extraordinary. She searches out the detail that makes the image, and the image that tells the story more eloquently than words ever could. Her film is a compelling examination of the wondrously strange ways in which people treat one another, the poetically eccentric accommodations they make to life's incomprehensible cruelty and flashes of brilliant wonder.

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