Thursday, December 2, 2010

#210 The Piano (1993)


Director: Jane Campion

Cast: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Kerry Walker, Geneviéve Lemon, Tungia Baker

The Piano takes place in the 19th century– Ada (Hunter) is a mute woman who has just been married off by her father. She and her daughter, Flora, leave their native Scotland to make what seems to be an incredibly difficult boat journey to New Zealand frontier. Stranded on the beach, we as an audience quickly come to understand the important bond between mother and daughter (via sign language and nonverbal understandings), and even moreso between mother and beloved piano.

When her husband, Alistair, finally shows for her rescue, he doesn't bother to notice or care for her attachment to the piano–despite multiple efforts. Even more carelessly, he trades the piano to a local native, Baines, in exchange for land despite the confrontation that ensues with Ada as a result. Alistair also informs her that he has promised her services in providing Baines with piano lessons, as he has personally requested.

Ada reluctantly goes, if only to get the chance to visit her precious piano. She soon realizes, however, that Baines has no interest in learning the piano. Instead, he nurses his infatuation with Ada. The two make a deal that she will visit once for each black key on the piano, allowing Baines to "do what he pleases" as she plays–and once all the keys have been spoken for, she may have the piano back. Thus begins an erotic and often silent struggle between the two characters.

Of course, when Alistair eventually learns of the love affair, he is driven mad that he cannot illicit a similar physical response from his wife. He takes drastic measures which lead to tragedy, drama, horror, escape, and love (not necessarily in that order).

This film is truly bizarre, albeit extremely "exciting" at parts. Intensely erotic in a "forbidden fruit" kind of way, it takes bold moves with both the male and female bodies, the concept of prostitution, domestic violence, and rape. On the same token, it is confusingly enough... a love story, and a very mushy one at that. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised and entertained by this film.

Of course, my major grief is about the acting. Holly Hunter, though doing wonders with her facial expressions, was entirely the wrong person cast in this role. Although she did play many of her own piano parts, her Scottish accent was DEPLORABLE! In other ways, I felt the role required a woman with a more apparent wear on her face, if that makes any sense at all. Angelica Houston (who was actually considered by Campion for the role) immediately comes to mind as what I imagine the perfect Ada to be.

At any rate, an important film– equated in my mind with breaking sexual boundaries much in the way Last Tango in Paris did.

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