Saturday, July 17, 2010
From the Vault: The Piano
Silence affects everyone in the end — so says Ada, the heroine of Jane Campion's exquisite film The Piano, a movie that amply proves Ada's statement.
Ada, played by Holly Hunter, doesn't speak. The Scottish woman is neither deaf nor mute, she just chose at an early age not to speak.
Ada expresses herself through her music, and her piano accompanies her and her daughter (Anna Paquin) to New Zealand, where Ada has been promised to marry Stewart, a 19th-century New Zealand colonist (Sam Neill). Unfortunately, Stewart swaps the instrument for the land of a neighbor (Harvey Keitel).
Keitel's character, Baines, agrees to let Ada continue to play her piano at his place — in exchange for lessons that go beyond music. The relationship, which begins as emotional blackmail, soon turns into an erotic and satisfying love story.
On the surface, The Piano tells a simple story, but Campion's script and the work of her actors give the tale many layers.
Every element of The Piano is top-notch, from Stuart Dryburgh's evocative cinematography to Michael Nyman's wonderful score, which Ada plays throughout the film and which helps the piano itself work as both metaphor and plot device.
Campion creates many stark and memorable images, ranging from the arrival of Ada and her daughter on a beach to Baines and Ada's affair. Every second is hypnotic, the film is hauntingly unforgettable.
While Hunter and Keitel will deservedly be singled out for praise, Neill's work should not be lost in the process. His portrayal of the cuckolded husband could easily have degenerated into villainy, but Neill transforms Stewart into a complex and even sympathetic character, even when he commits heinous acts.
It's Hunter though who makes the film come to life, an amazing feat given that she doesn't speak in the film. Her expressive face and body language, especially her eyes, more than compensate for her character's lack of words.
Campion deserves no end of praise for The Piano. She has created a work that lives up to its hype and will remain with the viewer long after the credits have rolled.