The Piano is an amazing tale of lust, envy, jealousy, betrayal and female identity and independence. Set in the mid nineteenth century, Ada McGrath is shipped off with her daughter Flora and their scant belongings to New Zealand, the reason being her arranged marriage to a somewhat successful land owner. Ada's beloved piano makes the journey with her.
The visually haunting opening scene of her arrival on the beach is perhaps one of the most haunting movie openings I think I've ever seen. From the beginning you sense her suffocating sense of misplacement and isolation, her sense of being out of place in the rain drenched, mud soaked South Island is overpowering (you have to remember this was way back when the area was hardly populated except by natives and there were few roads etc).
Holly Hunter excells, as usual, in her role, deservedly winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a woman who chooses to be mute and has not spoken since she was six years old. Ada's true love, is her piano, which is her emotional and symbolic voice, being her most powerful expression of emotion and spirit. Ada takes an instant dislike of her new husband (Sam Neil) when he refuses to bring her piano up from the beach, and when an illiterate neighbour George Baines (played by Harvey Keitel) decides to bring her piano to his home, he strikes up a deal with her, formulating a way for her to earn it back. He proposes that for every lesson she gives, he gets to perform one sexual act. In the beginning, Ada despises George for his immoral, lustful blackmailing, however slowly, tacitly, their relationship transforms into a strong emotional and intellectual bond, and their lives spiral down into a frenzy of lust, deadly jealousy, envy and tragedy. The movie is full of symbolism and should be read metaphorically rather than literally. Passion is abundant, and as a pianist, I felt her intense passion for playing, which offered not only a voice for her to express herself with, but formed a part integral to her identity.
It is long, and quite slow to get into but very rewarding, and the haunting climax, and ending will leave you breathless but with a feeling of fullfilment.
I watch it again and again, and realise each time more and more symbolism within the movie. Amazing, Jane Campion deserved her praise and awards, while Anna Paquin became the youngest actress ever to win an Academy Award, whilst Holly Hunter excels in the peformance of a lifetime.
Tagged as one of the best movies of the last 30 years of the twentieth century?... I certainly think so.