The Piano (1993)

the piano poster 1993 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Crossover art-house movie hit

Hits you over the head with themes

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Piano

Studio:  CiBy 2000/Jan Chapman Productions/The Australian Film Commission

Genre(s):  Drama

Release Date(s):  May 15, 1993 (Cannes)/October 29, 1993 (UK)/February 11, 1994 (US)

MPAA Rating:  R

the piano holly hunter anna paquin

Like mother, like daughter

Mute Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) and her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) find themselves in New Zealand when Ada is married to Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill) sight unseen.  Ada’s only prized possession is her piano and through her piano she talks.  When Alisdair trades Ada’s piano to an Englishman living among the natives named George Baines (Harvey Keitel) for land, Ada learns she has been asked to teach George…but George has an offer for Ada to earn her piano back.

Written and directed by James Campion, The Piano is a period drama.  The film premiered at Cannes where it won the Palme d’Or.  The film won an Academy Awards for Best Actress (Hunter), Best Supporting Actress (Paquin), and Best Original Screenplay with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1110).

the piano holly hunter harvey keitel

The passion?

The Piano is maybe the epitome of mainstream art house film.  The movie came out when a period of big films were released in the 1990s that were both artsy and popular.  The Piano is good, but it also sometimes feels rather obvious.

The story of The Piano is a story of control and domination.  Who is playing whom and who is in control.  The film is a character based film that also happens to tell a story.  The film was lauded for giving a more feminist perspective of sex and desire, and Ada is a big piece of that.  This is woven also to the secondary story of her daughter who is trying to find her place in the world…as they all are in a new world.

What can’t be faulted is the acting on any role.  All of the actors are at their peak.  Holly Hunter’s voice is always very distinctive and the film takes it away…but she’s able to emote a lot from her silence.  Paquin even at a young age displayed a lot of control and range as the young Flora with both actors getting support from Harvey Keitel and Sam Neill.  The movie features small appearances by Cliff Curtis and a very young Rose McIver.

the piano holly hunter drowning

Don’t get dragged down

The Piano looks fantastic.  The New Zealand location isn’t glorified and shows how hard the living was for the early settlers who moved there…plus the difficulties of mixing with the native population (though there also is a heavy imperialism thread throughout).  The film oozes style and smartly used the look to tell the story.

The Piano is good, but it also feels a bit too easy.  The symbolism and nature of the movie is worn on the sleeve and while it sometimes makes the viewer feel smart, it also feels like pandering.  The film was part of a number of gateway films that helped change how cinema looked…and if nothing else, for that you can be thankful.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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