Piano, The (1993)


Uh, spoiler much...
Uh, spoiler much...

Genre: Period Romance Drama (Australia, France, New Zealand)

Starring: Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona Broadcast News), Harvey Keitel (Mean StreetsFrom Dusk Till Dawn)

Directed By: Jane Campion (Bright StarSweetie)

Overview: In the 1850s, Ada, a mute woman and her child are sent to her new husband in New Zealand. Her piano is her voice and greatest passion. When she makes landfall, her husband will not allow his porters to bring the bulky piano to the house. A plantation worker buys it and asks that Ada visit to teach him to play. He soon finds his own passions rest not in the piano but in Ada.

1001 Movies I Must Review Before I Die is often a chore, and never more than when I'm assigned a Period Romance Drama. I mean, come on, it's just not fair to expect a guy whose Top 5 directors includes Tarantino to get all excited about stuffy 1850s morality Romances revolving around musical instruments that aren't phallic. But The List, ever The List, is something I've sworn to uphold, including films that just plain aren't my bag. And for as much as I expected boredom from The Piano, I couldn't help but be more impressed and entertained by this 1001 Club pick than I have in recent weeks.

The character dynamics are the high point in this plot-rich love triangle Drama. Across an ocean, the mute Ada is betrothed to a man she's never met. When she lands on the new Zealand beach with her daughter and her belongings, her obtuse rich landowner of a new husband, Alisdair Stewart, sees no place in his home for her piano. The piano is for her her greatest voice. Being unable to keep it immediately estranges her from Alisdair. One of Alisdair's porters, a white-but-Maori-tattooed George Baines takes an interest in Ada, buys the piano from Alisdair and requests that Ada teach him to play. George then offers to sell the piano back to her in exchange for 'lessons', that increasingly involve the two of them wearing less clothing every time. From here the love triangle is typical while still staying original, shot with beauty and directed with an uncommon finesse.

Her hair's 'puritan' but the curtains don't match the drapes, if you know what I'm sayin'
Her hair's 'puritan' but the curtains don't match the drapes, if you know what I'm sayin'

Each character's arc has ample time to fully develop. Ada's helplessness, shame and empowerment develops silently with brilliant nuance. I didn't even recognize this as the same Holly Hunter that I remembered from Raising Arizona. George's lust, shame and love is also impressively played un-NewYorkilly by Harvey Keitel. Then there's Alisdair, played by Sam Neill, from selfish vacuousness to emasculated minion to shamed cuckold, his transformation is a wonder to behold. Writer-Director Jane Campion absolutely deserves the fame this film brought her. Oh and Anna Paquin won an academy award at 11 years old for her performance of Ana's daughter, making her the second youngest to win an Oscar in her category. It's definitely a great little role.

The Piano is a Romance Drama, yes, but unlike most films of its ilk, it's entertaining. There's rage and seething wrath and unlike the poster art clearly aimed at the fluff-seekers, there are very few moments of happy smiling joyous embraces. Thank you, Marketing Department for again aiming your laser at the Lowest Common Denominator. The truth is that there's a certain brutality in this that will make women see the epic scale of the ordeal, while giving the men in the audience some honest reactions they can stand by.

For the ladies, the story is a beautifully romantic tale of love between a man, a mute, her piano and its keeper. It's also got Harvey Keitel at one of his healthiest moments, which will give you ladies a nice frame for the ding dong he routinely whips out and propellers about.

For the guys, which is really the audience that needs convincing, there's enough stuff going on that will entertain you. It's not all panoramas and surf on the beach. We have Holly Hunter showing her absolutely stunning assets on several occasions. Under that bulky puritan garb is a real sleeper bod. In fact, it could easily compete with Charlize Theron's most-memorable nude scene in Cider House Rules, or Nicole Kidman's in Cold Mountain. You know what? You probably don't need any more convincing. Believe me, it's really damn hot, and a pretty good way of impressing your girlfriend... suggesting a screening of this movie, not suggesting a screening of Holly Hunter's goodie bits.

The beach scenes are actually the most beautiful in the film... ooo though... gotta call 'Naked Boobie Bum' Trump...
The beach scenes are actually the most beautiful in the film... ooo though... gotta call 'Naked Boobie Bum' Trump...

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 80% (Plays Quite Well)

I mentioned earlier that the film was acted with an uncommon finesse. After a recent viewing of The Color Purple, I wonder how much better Jane Campion would have done with the material without the Spielbergian ham-fisted approach. Well enough I wouldn't have shat all over Whoopi, I'm sure.

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Sigh... it really is embarrassing that every review has to say that men will need convincing to like this movie. Are we men so unable to understand or appreciate basic human emotions like love, lust and jealousy that any movie that focuses on these emotions must be a "chick flick"? Although, if your favorite director is Tarentino, this might not be up your alley after all (speaking of which, Im about to see Kill Bill Volume 1 for the first time tonight. So excited!).

Uh? I loved it! It's my alley! I live in that alley! There's my welcome mat in front of that dumpster - the red one!

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