The Piano: Unlikeable People Get Naked

Moving on to the next film on our list, this is Jane Campion's Oscar-winning film The Piano.  I have been told that this is an erotic film (to tell the truth, I was told that by Sally from Coupling) and I've also been made aware that Harvey Keitel is one of the two leads.  I am having a hard time reconciling these two facts.

Ada is a mute, harsh Scottish woman who is moving to New Zealand with her young daughter to marry a man she's never met.  He isn't exactly what she's looking for (although to be fair, she seems determined to be obstinate and displeased).  They have to leave Ada's beloved piano on the beach, and her husband isn't in a huge rush to cart it back home through miles of marshland.  She begs her husband's friend Baines to take her to the beach so that she can play.

He is very taken with her, and makes a deal with her husband.  Baines will trade him some land in exchange for the piano and lessons from Ada.  What he really means, however, is that he's got a weird piano fetish and he wants to do freaky things to her while she plays the piano.  This progresses from relatively innocent stuff to full on Harvey Keitel nudity.  Thank you for taking me to that scary visual place, movie.  Pretty soon they're having an affair, and it isn't long after that when her husband inevitably finds out.  At first, he acts not that unreasonably, all things considered.  He demands that she never see him again, bars the door, and they all try to move on.

When Ada discovers that Baines is leaving, she takes a big risk and has her little girl deliver a message to him, telling him that he has her heart.  Instead of taking it to Baines, however, little Fiona takes it to her stepfather, who flies into a rage and chops off one of Ada's fingers.

I know.  It's always the quiet ones, innit?

But it isn't long before her husband realizes that this isn't the kind of person that he wants to be, and he tells Baines to take her away.  Baines, Ada, and Fiona leave by canoe, initially attempting to transport the piano with them...because that seems safe.  A few minutes later, Ada insists that they dump the piano in the water. Baines initially argues with her, but eventually agrees...until the rope holding the piano gets caught around Ada's ankle, pulling her into the water.  Whoops.  Ada starts to do what she's done the entire film, which is stare around her with a cold indifference, but she finds the will to live and struggles against the rope.  The story ends with her and her new family together and happy, where she is relearning how to talk (because apparently her muteness was a result of her being stubborn than anything physical).

Random Musings:

  • I'm not sure how I feel about Holly Hunter's Scottish accent.  Then again, it's not like she actually talks, so no harm, no foul.

  • Aww little itty bitty Anna Paquin!  So cute and talented.  She's been around forever and I always forget that she was a child actress, even though I totally worshiped Fly Away Home when I was a kid.

  • So they're just going to leave her piano on the beach, where it will 100% definitely get damaged?  Yeah, I'd be fair moithered too.

  • Hold on just one second.  So...Harvey Keitel is the love interest in this film?  I'm not being funny, but...really?  Maybe Harvey Keitel in Who's That Knocking at My Door.  Maybe.

But in 1993?  Nope.  Sam Neill every time.  That guy fights dinosaurs.

  • Aw, bless.  I love it when Anna Paquin gets all cross and says that she wants to be in the wedding photograph.  And glares daggers at everyone within five miles.

  • It has to be said: I don't really think that Sam Neill's such a bad guy.  Yeah he's a little boring and standoffish, and he doesn't always go about things the right way, but he seems like he wouldn't be so terrible if she made the slightest effort to be anything but a stone cold bitch to him.  I mean, she's just a miserable person, isn't she?

  • So...she's basically a prostitute, only instead of getting money, she's earning back a piano that already belongs to her?  Is that more or less accurate?

  • Harvey Keitel, are you seriously dusting the piano naked?  Why are you so weird?

  • OK, so I don't understand the theme of this little pageant, with the cute little kids in angel costumes and then the really low budget production of Bluebeard, but that shadow bit is genuinely horrifying.

  • Are the little Maori kids...humping trees?  Is that a common sort of practice in New Zealand?

So that's The Piano.  Jane Campion has put together a really beautiful film, and she uses her native land of New Zealand well.  I think out of all the awards this film was nominated for, the one it really should have won was Best Director.  Because she does a wonderful job here.  The only real problems I have with the film, ironically, involve Campion's other contribution to the film: the screenplay.  I have a hard time caring about Ada's plight, because I find her just so hard and unlikeable.  Honestly, up until the point where he chops off her finger, I was 100% in Sam Neill's corner.  And I know Baines turns out OK, and credit to Harvey Keitel, I did like him by the end of the film, but his early relationship with Ada is so weird and...borderline assaulty, that it doesn't exactly endear the audience to him.

In summation, the cinematography is great, it's well-directed, I really enjoy little Anna Paquin in her career-launching role, Baines isn't as bad as he originally seems, I have an uneasy sort of sympathy for Sam Neill, I'm not sure how I feel about the representation of the Maori people, and I'm very frustrated with Ada.  Yup.

That's about all I got.  Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow for The Big Parade!

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Matt Stewart said...

Great review, you seem to be a very skilled writer! But my friend you need more followers!

Ah well, welcome to LAMB!

Audrey on a Mission said...

Why thank you! :)

m.brown said...

Good review! Funny and charming. I've had a few chances to see this one, but never caught it. And you'd think the promise of Keitel nudity would've sealed the deal...

Anonymous said...

The Piano was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The only reason it didn't win them all? Two words: Schindler's List. Still, The Piano managed to win 3 Academy Awards:
Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
Best Original Screenplay (Jane Campion)
Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin)
By the way, Anna's win made her the second youngest competitive Oscar winner ever, since she was only 11 years old at the time she won.

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