The Piano

The Piano

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Sometimes big things come in small packages. An independent film with B-list stars, dismissed by some as a mere chick flick, The Piano made a splash out of all proportion to its size. It won three Oscars and launched the career of Anna Paquin, as well as making Campion the first ever female winner of the Palme D'Or. A decade on, its distinctive voice still marks it out.

Ada (Holly Hunter) is small. Unreasonably so, says the new husband who has had her shipped all the way from Scotland to New Zealand, daughter in tow. He also dislikes the fact that she's mute. He feels cheated. Being asked to drag her grand piano all the way up to his house from the beach is the final straw. So he sells it to plantation worker George (Harvey Keitel). It's a move he will come to regret.

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Alone in an alien world, robbed of her music and thereby of her voice, Ada is forced to make a desperate bargain. It begins with music lessons for which she is paid one ivory key at a time. But soon George wants more. And yet out of the ugliest of transactions comes something unexpected, a romance as intense as it is desperate; pleasure which, perhaps because of its rarity, becomes overwhelming.

Scored by Michael Nyman in uncharacteristically melodic mode, The Piano is a film that defies convention at every turn yet never loses its coherence or believability, its obscure motifs gradually interconnecting. Hunter delivers a riveting central performance, her silence speaking for a myriad women whose stories have been overlooked by history. The sex scenes are genuinely passionate, with Ada's desire taking centre stage in a way we rarely see. And the deft ending, in its refusal to be neat or apologetic, lifts the spirits in ways that go far beyond mere celebration of romance.

What is perhaps sad, in retrospect, is how little of this we have seen since. The Piano strikes a rare tune. The rest is silence.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2012
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A mute woman in an arranged marriage makes a dangerous bargain in an attempt to retrieve her stranded piano.
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Director: Jane Campion

Writer: Jane Campion

Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin

Year: 1993

Runtime: 121 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia, New Zealand, France

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