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Australia 1993
Directed by
Jane Campion
121 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Piano

There is no denying the marvellous visual composition of Jasne Campion's locally and internationally successful and for Australia, iconic film. This story set in the 19th century of a mute woman (Holly Hunter) sent from Scotland as a bride for a typical Victorian patriarchal settler (Sam Neill) and her encounter with an unconventional neighbour (Harvey Keitel) won Oscars for Hunter (Best Actress), Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress), as her daughter and Campion (Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen) as well as sweeping the homegrown awards, the AFIs.

The fact that Hunter's character plays Michael Nyman's post-modernist music indicates that we are not meant to take this as literal period piece so much as a poetic formulation of the age-old battle between Eros and Civilization. But it is exactly here that the film falls down, Campion's style being far too tasteful to effectively carry off the Lawrentian dramatics. Everything tends to be a symbol of meaning rather than its embodiment. Here one might rightly postulate some kind of feminine aesthetic but this does not make this film generally any more satisfying, something which is particularly the case with the Sam Neill character and the resolution of the story.

Somewhat ironically, it is Nyman's music, or at least the decision to use it, that most lets the film down for, given the centrality of the piano to everything here, the reiterative tinkling is woefully inadequate to carry the supposed emotional weight of the story. Never was Mahler more wanted. That, and the similarly reiterative display of Maori extras, are the most insistent annoyances in what is otherwise an impressively ambitious project.




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