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The Piano

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Piano

Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel
Director: Jane Campion
Rated: R
RunTime: 121 Minutes
Release Date: November 1993
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Kerry Walker, Genevieve Lemon, Tungia Baker, Ian Mune

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

Last decade of this dying century was rather harsh for many people who used to live in my part of the world, especially if those people were civic-minded intellectuals or technocrats. For them, it was natural to seek happiness somewhere else and one spot on the other side of the globe became very popular. New Zealand, with its nice climate, thriving economy and plenty of job opportunities, became sort of promised land for many people who wanted to improve their life. Perhaps some of them would change their mind and not see New Zealand as paradise on Earth after watching PIANO, Award-winning 1993 melodrama by Jane Campion.

The heroine of the film, set in 1852, is Ada (played by Holly Hunter), beautiful woman who was sent from Scotland in order to be wed to Stewart (Sam Neill), New Zealand colonist and wealthy landowner. With her, Ada to the cold, rainy and muddy colony brings her 9-year (presumably illegitimate) daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) and huge piano. For Ada, piano is very important, because since the age of 6 she refused to speak and the music is her only form of expression. However, Stewart doesn't see the importance of the piano for his bride, and he leaves her instrument on the beech. Bains (Harvey Keitel), Stewart's neighbour, rough, illiterate man who had adopted Maori ways, falls in love with Ada and realises how important piano is for her. So he trades gives some land to Stewart in exchange for piano, and later arranges for Ada to give him piano lessons. He than offers her to get her piano back, in exchange for sexual favours. Ada complies, but soon Stewart finds the truth and all leads to dramatic and violent finale.

In its time, THE PIANO was a film adored by critics, and it is very easy to explain why. Superb cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh with its use of blue and grey tones gives a right, depressive tone of the film, with very good contrast provided by warmer colours during the love scenes. Costumes by Janet Patterson give the right period feel. Finally, acting is excellent. Holly Hunter deserved her "Oscar", no matter how her role of a cripple looked like standard Academy choice for best performance. Anna Paquin, who, by receiving the golden statuette with the age of 9, broke record for youngest Award winner, is also very good, although overshadowed by her better and more experience co-worker. But the true gem of the film is Harvey Keitel, who spares no effort in order to portray the complex and transforming character of Bains as realistically as possible. Sam Neill, who got the thankless role of a husband, hardly can do anything to match their talent. Finally, the entire feel of the film is provided by an excellent musical score by Michael Nyman, one of the best and most memorable in the recent decade.

Unfortunately, having many good or excellent doesn't mean that the movie must be good or excellent as a whole. In case of THE PIANO, it happened most probably because the writer and director Jane Campion had the right ideas in her "Oscar"-awarded screenplay, but lacked the ability to make it understandable to the audience. This story was very romantic in nature, displaying the conflict between the individual and conformist society, and even more universal one, conflict between passion and reason. However, for me, this film was actually done great disservice with the overkill of feminism (quite understandable, because the film was made during the peak of Political Correctness era), and by making the character of Ada too bizarre and unbelievable. Also, the character of Flora could have easily been left out of picture. Jane Campion makes confusion even greater with some bad editing during the film, and by some sudden and gratuitous violence and pointless, although visually impressive finale that lacks any emotional catharsis, at least when the author of this review is concerned. Many of those flaws would be easier to tolerate if Campion had worked a little bit harder to make this film pleasing to the eye. Her naturalistic approach only made those flaws more obvious. Despite that, THE PIANO is still good film to watch, but only if we can stop thinking that it should have been much better.

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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