The Piano


The Piano

Infobox Film
name = The Piano


caption = original film poster
amg_id = 1:119914
imdb_id = 0107822
writer = Jane Campion
starring = Holly Hunter
Harvey Keitel
Anna Paquin
Sam Neill
director = Jane Campion
editing = Veronika Jenet
producer = Jan Chapman
cinematography = Stuart Dryburgh
country = New Zealand
Australia
France
distributor = Miramax (USA and Australia)
released = Start date|1993|05|19 (premiere at Cannes),
5 August 1993 (Australia)
12 November 1993 (USA)
runtime = 121 mins.
language = English,
Māori,
British Sign Language
music = Michael Nyman
awards = Palme d'Or 1993, 3 Oscars 1994, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best original script.
budget = $7 million USD.

"The Piano" is a 1993 film about a mute pianist and her daughter, set during the mid-19th century in a rainy, muddy frontier New Zealand backwater. The film was written and directed by Jane Campion, and stars Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill and Anna Paquin. It features a score for the piano by Michael Nyman that became a bestselling soundtrack album. Hunter played her own piano pieces for the film, and also served as sign language teacher for Paquin, earning herself three different screen credits. The film was an international co-production by Australian producer Jan Chapman with the French company Ciby 2000.

Alistair Fox has argued that The Piano was significantly influenced by Jane Mander's "The Story of a New Zealand River". [cite web|url=http://www.otago.ac.nz/communicationstudies/campion/participants/fox.html|title=Puritanism and the Erotics of Transgression: the New Zealand Influence on Jane Campion's Thematic Imaginary|author=Alistair Fox|accessdate=2007-10-07]

Synopsis

"The Piano" tells the story of a silent but strongwilled Scotswoman, Ada McGrath (Hunter), whose father arranges a marriage to New Zealand frontiersman Alistair Stewart (Neill). She is shipped off with her young daughter Flora (Paquin) to live with Stewart. Ada has not spoken a word since she was six years old, expressing herself instead through writing, through sign language (for which her near-adolescent daughter has served as the interpreter), and through her piano in songs of her own creation. It is never made clear why she ceased to speak at such a young age, though we learn this fact in a voiceover during a scene showing her young daughter on a recalcitrant pony, being pulled by someone, perhaps a groom — suggesting that something occurred against her will at age six causing her to withhold her speech. Flora, it is later learned, is the product of a relationship with a teacher, who understood Ada's thoughts without speech, but who 'became frightened and stopped listening.'

Ada and Flora and their belongings, including her piano, are deposited on the New Zealand beach by the ship's crew and spend the night alone, sheltering under a tiny tent made of a hoopskirt frame. The next day Alistair arrives with a Maori crew that he has hired through Baines (Keitel), a neighbor who is a retired sailor, to carry her belongings to his home. There are not enough men to carry everything, so Alistair abandons the piano, much to Ada's distress. Baines is able to 'read' Ada better ("She looks tired") than her husband, who is only dismayed to see how small she is.

Ada keeps Alistair at a distance, which he unhappily respects, and as soon as possible goes with Flora to Baines and asks to be taken to the piano. He is at first reluctant, but then agrees, and the three spend the day around the piano; he is enchanted by her playing, seeming to understand (as Alistair does not, consciously) that it is her voice. Baines retrieves the instrument and suggests that Alistair trade it — and lessons from Ada — for some land Alistair wants. Ada is angry and shocked, but 'must make sacrifices', as Alistair tells her, so she goes to Baines' hut, to find that he has had the piano put into perfect tune after its rough journey. He asks to simply listen rather than learn to play himself, and then offers to let her buy the piano back, one key at a time, by letting him do 'things he likes' while she plays. Ada reluctantly agrees (after negotiating for the price to be one black key, of which there are 36, rather than the 52 white keys). Over a number of visits, Ada succumbs to this strange seduction, and Baines finds himself more and more in love with her.

As Ada grows closer to Baines, who identifies strongly with the Maori, representing a naturalness about sex, intuitive empathy with people, and a strong tie to the land, she grows further from Alistair, who represents imperialism, is ill-at-ease physically and socially, and eternally clueless about the Maori culture ("Why do they need the land anyway?" he says of their traditional burying grounds. "They don't do anything with it.")

Alistair discovers the love affair and his frustration erupts as he furiously boards up his home with Ada inside. Baines has returned the piano and tells Ada that "the arrangement is making you a whore, and me wretched", but they realize they love one another. Alistair witnesses the entire lovemaking session but says nothing of his suspicions. After that interlude, Ada stays away from Baines for a time and tries to be more affectionate with Alistair, though her gentle caresses only serve to frustrate him more because when he makes a move to touch her, she shies away. Before Alistair departs on a journey, he asks Ada if she wants to see Baines; she shakes her head no, and he tells her he trusts that she won't go see him while he's gone. Soon after he leaves, Ada sends her daughter to deliver a package to Baines, containing a single piano key with an inscribed love declaration. Flora, after an initial hostility, has begun to accept Alistair as her 'papa' and is angered and frightened by her mother's feelings for Baines; she brings the piano key instead to Alistair, who, knowing that Baines had plans to leave, had hoped for a 'new start' with Ada and trusted her not to go to him. After reading the love note burnt into the piano key, Alistair furiously returns home and chops off Ada's index finger with his axe, threatening to take them all off, one by one, if she continues to see Baines.

Recovering from her injury, Ada is in a dreamlike state, tormented by her desire for Baines; when Alistair tries to have sex with her, he looks into her face and, like Flora's father, can hear her thoughts. As he tells Baines, she said, "I am afraid of my will; it is too strong and strange." She silently asks Alistair to send her away with Baines, in the hopes that 'he can save me.'

On the Maori boat taking them away, Ada asks Baines to throw the piano overboard (it has been 'spoiled'). At first he refuses, but then acquiesces. As it sinks, she puts her foot into the loops of rope trailing overboard and is pulled into the water herself. She sinks and seems at peace, connected by the rope as if it were an umbilical cord to the piano; then 'her will' comes to a decision to live, and she kicks free, to be pulled into the boat as if undergoing a physical rebirth.

In an epilogue she describes her life with Baines in Nelson, where she has started to give piano lessons in their new home, her missing finger having been replaced with a silver digit made by Baines. She has also started to learn how to speak, and adds that she is regarded as the town freak - 'which satisfies.' She and Baines are still in love, and we see Flora doing a cartwheel, as she did earlier on the beach to her mother's music (but never around Alistair's house). Ada says that she imagines her piano in its grave in the sea, and herself suspended above it, which 'lulls me to sleep'. She closes the film with the Thomas Hood quote, from his poem "Silence", which opened the film: "There is a silence where hath been no sound. There is a silence where no sound may be in the cold grave under the deep deep sea."

Responses

The film won the 1993 "Palme d'Or" (Golden Palm, shared with Chen Kaige's "Farewell My Concubine") and a Best Performance Prize for Holly Hunter at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1994, the film won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Holly Hunter), as well as Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Anna Paquin) and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Anna Paquin was the second youngest person after Tatum O'Neal to win an Academy Award. Holly Hunter is notable for being the only actress along with Marlee Matlin (who won the award seven years earlier for her American sign language performance in "Children of a Lesser God") to receive an Academy Award in the post-silent era for a non-speaking role (her voice is only heard offscreen in a few scenes).

Critical reaction was overwhelmingly supportive. Roger Ebert said: "The Piano" is as peculiar and haunting as any film I've seen" and "It is one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters, but about a whole universe of feeling". Hal Hinson of the Washington Post called it " [An] evocative, powerful, extraordinarily beautiful film". In a Rottentomatoes.com sample of top critics, "The Piano" scored a 100 percent rating. [cite web|url=http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/piano/?critic=creamcrop|title= 100 percent rating among Rottentomatoes.com top critics|accessdate=2008-07-31]

Awards

Won

*Academy Awards:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Screenplay — Original (Jane Campion)
**Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin)
*Cannes Film Festival
**Golden Palm
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
*César Awards
**Best Foreign Film
*Australian Film Institute:
**Best Actor (Harvey Keitel)
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh)
**Best Costume Design (Janet Patterson)
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
**Best Editing (Veronika Jenet)
**Best Film
**Best Original Music Score (Michael Nyman)
**Best Production Design
**Best Screenplay — Original (Jane Campion)
**Best Sound
*BAFTA Awards:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Costume Design (Janet Patterson)
**Best Production Design (Andrew McAlpine)
*Boston Film Critics:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
*Chicago Film Critics:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Score (Michael Nyman)
*Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
*Golden Globe Awards:
**Best Actress — Drama (Holly Hunter)
*Independent Spirit Awards:
**Best Foreign Film, Australia/New Zealand
*London Film Critics:
**Actress of the Year (Holly Hunter)
**Film of the Year
*Los Angeles Film Critics:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Cinematography
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
**Best Screenplay (Jane Campion)
**Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin)
*National Board of Review:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
*National Society of Film Critics:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Screenplay (Jane Campion)
*New York Film Critics:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
**Best Screenplay (Jane Campion)
*Southeastern Film Critics:
**Best Actress (Holly Hunter)
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
**Best Picture
*Writers Guild of America (WGA):
**Best Screenplay — Original (Jane Campion)

Nominated

*Academy Awards:
**Best Cinematography (Stuart Dryburgh)
**Best Costume Design (Janet Patterson)
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
**Best Editing (Veronika Jenet)
**Best Picture
*American Cinema Editors:
**Best Edited Feature Film (Veronika Jenet)
*American Society of Cinematographers:
**Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases (Stuart Dryburgh)
*Australian Film Institute:
**Best Supporting Actor (Sam Neill)
**Best Supporting Actress (Kerry Walker)
*BAFTA Awards:
**Best Cinematography
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
**Best Editing
**Best Film
**Best Score (Michael Nyman)
**Best Screenplay — Original (Jane Campion)
**Best Sound
*Directors Guild of America (DGA):
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
*Golden Globe Awards:
**Best Director (Jane Campion)
**Best Original Score (Michael Nyman)
**Best Picture — Drama
**Best Screenplay (Jane Campion)
**Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin)

oundtrack

The score for the film was written by Michael Nyman, and included the acclaimed piece 'The Heart Asks Pleasure First'; additional pieces were 'Big My Secret', 'The Mood That Passes Through You', 'Silver Fingered Fling', 'Deep Sleep Playing' and 'The Attraction Of The Peddling Ankle'. This album is rated in the top 100 soundtrack albums of all time and Nyman's work is regarded as a key voice in the film, which has a mute lead character ("Entertainment Weekly", 12 October 2001, p. 44).

Casting

Casting the role of Ada was a difficult process. Sigourney Weaver was Campion's first choice, but she turned down the role because she was taking a break from movies at the time. Juliette Binoche was considered for the role at one stage, as was Anjelica Huston. [cite web|url=http://www.notstarring.com/movies/piano|title=The Piano (1993)|publisher=notstarring.com] Jennifer Jason Leigh was also considered but she couldn't meet with Campion to read the script because she was shooting the film "Rush" at the time. [cite web|url=http://www.movingimage.us/pinewood/files/pinewood/2/24866_programs_transcript_pdf_209.pdf|title=A Pinewood Dialogue With Jennifer Jason Leigh|format=PDF|publisher=Museum of the Moving Image|date=23 November 1994] Isabelle Huppert met with Jane Campion and had vintage period-style photographs taken of her as Ada, and later said she regretted not fighting for the role as Hunter did. [cite web|url=http://mjf.missouristate.edu/faculty/wang/ih/career/index_trivia1.htm|title=Isabelle Huppert: La Vie Pour Jouer - Career/Trivia|]

Notes

* Cheshire, Ellen. "Jane Campion". Great Britain: Pocket Essentials, 2000.
* Kaufman, Cynthia. "Colonialism, Purity, and Resistance in The Piano." "Socialist Review" 24 (1995): 251-55.

External links

*
* [http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19931119/REVIEWS/311190302/1023 Roger Ebert's review]

References

###@@@KEY@@@###succession box
title=Palme d'Or
years=1993 tied with
"Farewell My Concubine"
before="The Best Intentions"
after="Pulp Fiction"


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