*Project 1993 is a series of posts where I review films from the year 1993. I do movies from various genres and mostly ones that really meant something to me. Here's a link to all the articles from the project
A story of loneliness, repression and passion
“The Piano” tells the story of a woman who has been mute since she was six years old. Ada and her daughter move to New-Zealand when her father arranges a marriage to a wealthy Brit. She’s having a hard time adjusting to her new life, especially when her only comfort, her piano, is taken away from her. She is suddenly forced to teach the buyer, Baines, to play the piano. But soon it becomes clear that Baines doesn’t have piano-playing on his mind. The two of them get lost in a game of chase, lust and secrecy which ultimately results in a great love and a great loss.
There are different kinds when it comes to drama movies. There’s romance drama, psychological drama, and there’s dramatic drama. The last one, I find easy to identify. They are ordinary, and often disturbing situations framed in an exquisite and shocking way. The one thing that always happens to me when watching such a movie: I don’t see the beauty of the story until the final moments. Regardless of the actors and setting, every time I frown at these films trying to grasp the significance. But when I near the last scenes, and sometimes the very last shot, I suddenly get a shock of realization. It’s those last scenes that are excruciating to the power of the film. It makes me rethink every thought I had about the previous scenes. When the end credits are rolling, in my head I briefly start replaying scenes and put the pieces together. It’s that moment when I grasp the message and let the powerful impression wash over me. “The Piano” was such a film for me. When it was finished, I was stunned at its beauty.
To the naked eye it may seem that sex or lust is the dominant element in this film, but it surpasses those shallow themes and emphasizes repression, love and emotion. The piano stands for so much more than just music. It’s how Ada expresses herself, the only way she can. It’s her voice, her thoughts, her melody. Baines understanding this, while her husband doesn’t, shapes the obvious relationships and feelings.
This is the first film I’ve ever seen of Holly Hunter and I was immensely impressed. She elevates the film to the greatness that it is. There are a few poignant moments where simply her face is on screen. Her eyes speak pain and vulnerability and her face recalls epiphanies of classic beauty and distant grace. For these moments alone, she did her Best Actress Oscar justice, but she gives us so much more. Hunter, unable to use voice and tone, turns to expression and movement to give her performance all. It couldn’t have been easy, but she manages to create a beautiful character that stirs up empathy and fascination. We want her to succeed, even though we don’t know what it is she’ll succeed in. We try to comprehend the essence of her complicated being but never achieve to do so. She’s unusual and lingering, which at times could be mistaken for disturbing and strange. Ada grabs your attention from the very first scene, throughout the entire movie, right up until the end credits.
Ada’s daughter, Flora, plays a big part in the story. She’s captured by a young Anna Paquin, who proves to be one of the best child stars ever. Her naïve innocence as well as her sharp perception contributed to her Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel (Ada’s husband and Baines respectively) complete the supporting cast and hold their own with solid performances.
“The Piano” is one of those rare films that aren’t just about the story. It’s about repressed emotions that can erupt when no one expects it. It’s about passionate love that hides in unexpected corners. It’s about the choice between want and must. But most of all it’s about a mute woman, one with a voice.
"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."