This is an extraordinary exploration of passion and betrayal as it explodes in the remote bush, removed from the eyes of conventional society, but judged with brutal intensity by the players themselves.
In "The Piano," Jane Campion transports the audience to another world and time immediately and with absolute precision. The gray of her New Zealand sea and sky is grayer, grander, more forbidding than our experience of it elsewhere. The stark image of the piano standing in the swirling surf will endure.
Next to the piano, waiting, sit Ada and her 9 year old daughter, Flora, an arranged family for Stewart, a lonely Englishman working his land among the Maori in the New Zealand bush of the 19th century. Borne through the surf by canoes from their ship, they spend the night under the hoop of her skirt, half a world away from their native Scotland and without a notion of what may await them.
What awaits them is Stewart who arrives with a band of Maori bearers and his roughly silent neighbor, Baines. The piano is too heavy, Stewart says. It will stay on the beach. Ada, who hasn't spoken a word since she was six, still manages to let the intractable Stewart know her rage. Silence is no indicator of this woman's power. It is Baines who rescues the piano, Ada's voice for all she feels.
It is in this, possibly the film's most memorable scene, that Campion begins to pose implied questions that she leaves unanswered. She shrouds the emotions of her characters in mystery. Campion has the eye of a visionary and the singular skill to capture what she sees. The seriousness of the film is punctuated with a wit that flows from her camera, not her words.
Ada can earn her piano back, Baines tells her, by coming to his house to give him lessons. One visit for every key, he says; only the black keys, she replies. And so this improbable pair explores the passion unleashed in both of them while Stewart stands by, submerged in emotion he has never felt before.
This is an extraordinary exploration of passion and betrayal as it explodes in the remote bush, removed from the eyes of conventional society, but judged with brutal intensity by the players themselves. The cast is beyond praise in conveying Campion's vision of a woman who speaks through her music to the two men who want her. Without words to distract us, we inhabit Ada's soul.
Holly Hunter gives an achingly original performance as Ada, playing Michael Nyman's music herself as naturally as if she were speaking. Sam Neill is superb as the vulnerable Stewart who loses his protective covering, and Harvey Keitel brings startling sensitivity to the solitary, innocent Baines.
Jane Campion pulled her company into her vision, took them off to the New Zealand bush and with their wise collaboration, captured it on film. The actors seem, as much as the characters they play, a group caught in time and place and passion. In perfect harmony with their director, they draw the audience into their strikingly beautiful and disturbing film so thoroughly that an entire audience sits numbed as the final credits roll.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 493
Copyright (c) Illusion
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