Friday, August 3, 2012

The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)
Palme d'Or Winner
Genre: Drama | Romance
Director: Jane Campion
Starring: Holly Hunter, Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill
Language: English, Maori, British Sign Language
Duration: 121 min.
Rating: 8.5
Summary:
The story of a mute woman who along with her young daughter, and her prized piano, are sent to 1850s New Zealand for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner.
The Piano is a film written and directed by New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion. It premiered at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d'Or, shared with Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine. To date it remains the first and only film from a female director to be awarded the Palme.

Set in the mid-nineteenth century, along the perpetually rainy and muddy coast of New Zealand, where Ada (Holly Hunter), a mute woman from Scotland who hasn't spoken a word since she was six, is sent along with her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin), in an arranged marriage (polite way of saying, sold by her father) to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill) a wealthy landowner.

From the outset, Campion's remarkably strong sense of visual storytelling and attention to minute detail is on display. A brief sequence narrated by Ada's mind's voice gives us a little back story of her life and her circumstance, before we are taken to the grey windswept South Island beach, where they land. It's wet and stormy and her husband is nowhere to be seen, so the pair must spend the night on the cold beach with only a hooped petticoat for shelter.

The Piano (1993)

Stewart finally arrives the next morning along with Baines (Harvey Keitel), a former whaler, and his group of Maori workers. In the short sequence on the beach, and with a bare minimum of dialogue, Campion immediately tells us everything we need to know about the main characters. The incredible chemistry shared between mother and slightly mischievous daughter who must translate for her and does so with amusing embellishment; the gruff and business-like Stewart, very much a man of the times, who insists there are not enough men to carry Ada's precious piano; and Baines, looking rough with his facial tattoos, but clearly not what he appears.

The images are seldom what you'd normally describe as beautiful but they are impressive their own way. It's almost always cloudy, rainy, and mud is everywhere, but every single frame here has amazing depth. Stuart Dryburgh's cinematography and Campion's mise-en-scène combine for some incredibly evocative sequences that bring on a full range of emotions. Using a cold palette, you can almost feel the chill of the wind and the mist of the surf, and there are two unforgettable scenes featuring a lone piano in unusual environments.

The Piano (1993)

The character of Ada is fascinatingly complex. To the outside world she's 'dumb' and 'stunted', but thanks to Hunter's terrific performance, we see that her inability to speak doesn't prevent her from being strong willed, intelligent, and passionate. The relationship that develops between her and Baines is strange, a little perverted even, but genuinely human. While a young Anna Paquin steals the show; her character Flora mirrors her mother somewhat, but she has a quick devilish wit and a fiery will of her own. I can't imagine the film being nearly as effective with a lesser actress in the role.

Of course with a film titled The Piano, you also need a strong musical score to succeed, and Michael Nyman does a wonderful job here. Generating emotional resonance with beautiful solo pieces that take the place of Ada's speech. The power and passion in them are further aided by being actually played by Hunter.

It's a film with carefully crafted atmosphere, powerful acting, and realistic emotions. The work of an artist with the talent to express those elements in a spellbinding manner. She takes a story that could easily be predictable or sappy, and creates something entirely original, lasting, and worthy of all the awards.
Bonjour Tristesse
The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

The Piano (1993)

26 comments:

TheVern said...

Amazing movie. Before this I was mainly watching just blockbusters and this one helped open my eyes to appreciate filmmaking more.

Margaret said...

Fantastirc review! Love this film, it's one of the most visually beautiful films out there.

Steven Flores said...

Truly one of the most beautiful films I had ever seen and deserving of the Palme D'or.

Lisa Thatcher said...

What a film. What a director. The absolute travesty of this was Michael Nyman wasn't even nominated for the score at the Academy Awards. Holly Hunter mentions him when she receives her award. Everything you say about this is so true. A sublime work of art.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Nice. Have you covered it on your blog yet?

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah, there are lots of beautiful looking films, but I found this impressive because the beauty is not just a pretty composition, but in the depth of emotion that each image holds.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I still have to see Farewell My Concubine, which tied this for the Palme d'Or. I wonder if the jury was split down the middle or if they all loved both films equally.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I agree that was a terrible oversight. Nyman's music is as much a part of the character as Hunter's performance is.

Alan Grimm said...

My parents took me with them when they saw it in the theaters. I was only a teenager then, but I know I need to revisit The Piano. Since I've broken my habit of lurking and not posting, I've also made you one of my choices for the Liebster. I've always said I come here when I'm looking for something outside my comfort zone, and your suggestions for my 100 Classic Movies Project have been great. http://greatmovieproject.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-liebster-award.html

d_4 said...

This. I should watch this. This one will probably please very much. I think maybe.. next month I'll start finding it.

Jack Deth said...

Hi, Bonjour and company:

Excellent choice!

'The Piano' is a lush, lovely, very human film to watch and let it wash over you. Kudos to Jane Campion and cinematographer, Stuart Dryburgh!

Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin are wonderful together in roles that seem tailor made. Though, this is one of only a few films (along with 'The Duelists' and 'Saturn 3') where Harvey Keitel seems oddly miscast.

TheVern said...

I have not The sad thing is I have only seen it once, and that was on VHS I but after reading your review about the music from Michael Nymann It makes me want to pick up the soundtrack more then watch the movie. I agree with what you said about how the music becomes the voice of the Holly Hunter character. It was quite good

FrontRoomCinema said...

Ah, The Piano, or me old Johanna as I like to call it!! Great film and stunning to watch!!

deadlydolls said...

I only caught this for the first time last year and loved it. It's a wonderfully sexy little film with superb performances all around.

Alex Withrow said...

Great review here. I really do love everything about this flick. And you're right, Campion could've easily let it slip into sappy territory, but she proved she's far too skilled a filmmaker to do that. Great movie.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Alan. I most likely won't be doing a Liebster post, but I appreciate the shout out.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Really is a must see. Let me know what you think if you manage to watch it.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Nice to see you around JD. I agree Keitel didn't seem to be the right fit at first, but he does somehow make it work.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Johanna, lol. Is that the title of the forthcoming Guy Ritchie remake?

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I absolutely agree. Thank you for stopping by deadlydolls.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Alex. She does have a rare talent for that.

Jess said...

I decided I wanted to watch this a couple years
back when I got into True Blood and realized Anna Paquin is so great. For some
reason I just turned it off after ten minutes and sent it back to netflix without
a second try. This review has inspired
me to give it another go (I’m more patient now anyway). I really want to see
her Oscar winning performance. I feel like she is strangely underrated despite
that. Since her performance in The Piano she’s never really gotten much acclaim
besides the early seasons of TB. She’s probably just having fun in this role
now which is cool, but I’d like to see her do more films that showcase her
talents.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thank you for stopping by Jess. I'd say you turned it off just as it was getting good and definitely recommend giving it another shot.

I gave up on True Blood after one season, too silly and not dark enough for me. But I've been hearing lots of good things about Paquin's performance in Margaret.

Chip said...

Good review. I thought this was a good movie, but I didn't care for it quite as much as the critics. I felt the same way when I saw Campion's film Sweetie before this. Paquin's character was actually the one I was most interested in because of the change she goes through. It didn't surprise me when she won the Oscar.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Chip. I actually wasn't too fond of Sweetie either, but I loved this one, and though I would have slightly preferred Winona Ryder to win for The Age of Innocence, I'm not disappointed it went to Paquin.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I have this movie on DVD and I love it. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Of those nominations, it eventually took home 3 of them: Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for writer/director Jane Campion.

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