Review: “The Piano” – Brutally Pertinent, Endlessly Revealing

Meditative rather than slow, picturesque rather than showy and starkly honest despite the inherent artifice, The Piano remains an Oscar worthy film, both brutally pertinent and endlessly revealing.

The Piano - Holly HunterIn revisiting The Piano twenty-five years on there is little to indicate that passing of time. Jane Campion’s economy both in terms of dialogue, location choice and acting ensemble make her third feature film perhaps more relevant than upon initial release. New Zealand is both cloying, claustrophobic but achingly atmospheric in helping Campion establish emotional themes and tone.

Playing out like a windswept costume drama amongst the airless outer reaches of civilisation, much is made of glances, gestures, and that inherent need for companionship. Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin remain revelations representing the inseparable nature of mother and daughter against elements beyond their control. Be that the nature of arranged marriages, burgeoning business prospects or the attentions of natives both at home and abroad. Oscar worthy and winner of both actress categories alongside original screenplay for Campion, it dissects contemporary female empowerment without preaching.

The Piano - Holly Hunter

In a film industry forever changed by accusations, documented actions and movie mogul debris, The Piano stands tall as both prevalent and relevant twenty-five years on. Neither Sam Neill’s Stewart nor Harvey Keitel’s Baines hold any power over Ada or Flora, both incapable of making more than fleeting connections. It is easy to get metaphysical with Ada and her piano as one is reliant upon the other, but Michael Nyman’s music as performed by Hunter offers up a perfect juxtaposition between both worlds. Coupled with the sense of regression which Ada’s self-imposed mutism implies and The Piano becomes a power struggle on numerous levels

There are socio-economic overtones represented through Baine’s link to native New Zealanders and an intrusive industrialisation, while both men are at loggerheads over Ada in a moment where progress is imminent. That though is digging a little deeper than some might wish to delve and takes attention away from the committed performances of all concerned.

From the standpoint of impact, this film still packs an almighty punch resonating with caged emotion, deeply rooted empowerment issues and a musical score perfectly attuned to its subject matter. Meditative rather than slow, picturesque rather than showy and starkly honest despite the inherent artifice, The Piano remains an Oscar worthy film, both brutally pertinent and endlessly revealing.

the piano, five stars, film review, Top 10 Films

Written by Martin Carr

The Piano - Holly HunterDirected by: Jane Campion
Written by: Jane Campion
Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Kerry Walker, Genevieve Lemon
Released: 1993 / Genre: Animation/Family/Comedy
Country: UK / IMDB
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The Piano was re-released on Blu-ray & DVD on July 16.

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    It wasn’t Campion’s debut – she had made Sweetie and An Angel at My Table; also a few shorts, some of which I had to endure at film school. I saw this in the theatre when it was first released. At the time I was a co-presenter on a friend’s radio show about cinema. Me and the host were so perplexed by this that we invited the state’s film critic on the show so that he could explain it. Good thing we did – neither of us really liked it. 25 years have now passed and I still don’t like it. Needless to say, I’m no sensitive new age guy.

    • Dan
      Dan Reply

      I’ve yet to see Campion’s films prior to The Piano. I knew this one was at least one of earliest works. I’ve corrected the above.

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    Martin Carr Reply

    Hi Mark,

    Apologises for the oversight and thank you for reading.


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