The Piano is a fine tuned cinematic instrument. Although she was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, Jane Campion only managed to win Best Original Screenplay. More significant was Campion being the first woman to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The Piano is a mostly New Zealand production from a New Zealand filmmaker with a predominantly New Zealand cast. As the title suggests, a piano is key to the entire story. Ada is a Scottish lady sent to New Zealand with her daughter Flora and precious piano because of an arranged marriage.
The most interesting thing about the movie is that Ada is a mute who relies on her 11 year old daughter to interpret for her. Much like The Miracle Worker, both performances are so reliant on each other that they equally deserved Academy Awards. Similar to Marlee Matlin, Holly Hunter won Best Actress without saying a single word. Meanwhile, first time actress Anna Paquin became the second youngest Oscar winner of all time. Her emotions speak for her mother.
Ada’s frontier husband Alisdair seems like another abusive spouse, but Sam Neill makes him a bit more complex. Ada’s affection is instead given to Māori sympathizer Baines. Harvey Keitel isn’t Māori, but you may recognize a young Cliff Curtis in his first film role. Baines helps Ada move her piano in exchange for lessons. I had no idea how erotic The Piano was until they started “tickling the ivories” so to speak. You can tell the movie was directed by a woman since Keitel and Neill are naked just as much as Hunter. Their passion has devastating consequences, but The Piano is more hopeful than it could’ve been.