Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

Australia 1993
Directed by
Jane Campion
121 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Piano

Jane Campion's locally and internationally successful film tells the story, set in mid-19th century new Zealand, of a mute woman (Holly Hunter), Ada, sent from Scotland as a mail-order bride for a small-time settler (Sam Neill) and her encounter with an unconventional neighbour (Harvey Keitel).

The film deservedly won Oscars for Hunter (Best Actress), Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress), as her daughter and Campion (Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) as well as sweeping the homegrown awards, the AFIs.

Campion’s thoughtful script is boldly economical leaving her to flesh it out with striking visual compositions that explore the core Lawrentian thesis of the conflict between Nature and Civilization, the Raw and the Cooked with elegance. The Piano however is not a gauzy romanticisation of the Antipodean past like Peter Weir’s  Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) but a dark film (literally so as a lot of black is used in the costumes and reinforced by lowly-lit interiors) in which choices lead to sometimes brutally violent consequences. Campion’s debatable ambiguous ending is almost made necessary to leave the bruised viewer some relief from the sick oppression that constituted "respectability" in Victorian society.

Despite theimpressive production design which captures the primitive living conditions which were the early settlers’ lot The Piano is not a realist film. Rather, in spirit it is closed to melodrama, even opera.
Here the use of Michael Nyman's music is questionable as its insistent circularity arguably subdues the unfolding drama. Never was Mahler more wanted.

Even so, Hunter and Keitel turn in excellent committed performances in developing the relationship between two characters. I was less convinced by Neil’s offering, the actor often not seeming clear on whether or not he is supposed to be a bad guy (i.e. a typical middle-class male of the time for whom a woman was merely another chattel). This hesitancy lowers the heat of the film

That, and the reiterative display of blankly staring Maori extras, are the most insistent annoyances in what is otherwise an impressively ambitious project that has gone a long way to achieving its goals.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst