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"The Piano" (1993) | Sam Gall Movie Review Issue #45 Gem Mint 10.0

“The Piano“ (1993)

Director: Jane Campion

Writer: Jane Campion

Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin

Rated: R for sexuality and violence

Runtime: 2h 1min

Genre: Drama, Music, Romance

Country: New Zealand | Australia | France | USA

Language: English | British Sign Language | Maori

In the mid-19th century, a mute woman is sent to New Zealand along with her young daughter and prized piano for an arranged marriage to a wealthy landowner, but is soon lusted after by a local worker on the plantation.

You might like this if you like: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, piano, movie scores, cinematography, period pieces, New Zealand, romance, drama, music

Anna Paquin (left) & Holly Hunter (right) in "The Piano" (1993)

My favorite film of all time. “The Piano” (1993) was one of the earliest R-Rated films I can remember having to 'sneak' into my room to watch or after my parents went to bed. It was one of my mom’s films and I knew I wasn’t allowed to watch it but I was probably 11 or 12 and the VHS tape had “sexual content” on the back of it. I had to know. So at a very young age, curious about sex and taking whatever I could find, I accidentally stumbled across one of my favorite, most treasured and beautiful pieces of cinema in my entire 27 years of living.

It was the first time I had seen any of those actors (I think I was probably just starting to learn actors names etc.) but I most likely would’ve recognized Sam Neil from “Jurassic Park” and “Merlin” (TV Mini-Series) but at the time of the initial, much-too-young-for viewing, I was paying no attention to actors names.

"The Piano" (1993)

It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was in college studying film and beginning to make my own, I rediscovered “The Piano” (1993) with a whole new pair of eyes. At this point in life, I had become fans of Anna Paquin as an actor and Holly Hunter, Sam Neil and Harvey Keitel as an actor. I had some years to discover their work as R rated films were pretty censored for me growing up. Paquin became a huge favorite of mine through the original “X-Men” films as Rogue, Hunter in the Coen Brother’s “Raising Arizona”. And Keitel in all his bloody and naked work I had missed out on as a child.

"The Piano" (1993)

It was a whole new experience. I saw the paintings through the cinematography, how the music communicated everything for Hunter, I saw the love and the pain and everything that it meant to be. I feel like I’m in an 1800s painting when watching the film. It had a texture I haven’t quite seen in anything else. The costumes, accents and locations are incredible and show the dedication, care and passion of the filmmakers. 100% my favorite original score, by Michael Nyman, for any film. It's connects me with so many beautiful things around me but lately, since my mom passed from cancer in 2019, it connects me most with her.

Harvey Keitel (left) & Holly Hunter (right) in "The Piano" (1993)

It's heartbreaking as hell but "The Piano" is so well done it mends itself back together. There's a famous scene in the woods that (I won't spoil it), even at a young age, those images stuck with me for years. It scarred me, as it's a terrifying scene, yet inspired me creatively throughout my whole life. It's the greatest scene in the history of cinema to me.

So many interesting themes layered throughout that I feel I've barely scratched the surface. Powerful explorations of jealousy, rage and inner peace. Love, but then again what story isn't about love in the very end?

Sam Neill in "The Piano" (1993)

The fact that our lead is a mute only helps strengthen the visuals and sounds of the film. There's plenty of dialogue to be said but it's still holds up for me in having some of the most powerful and influential images I've ever seen. The locations are just absolutely incredible. Like, I can't imagine the cinematographer/camera department going, "This looks like sh*t. What the hell are we going to do?". I would've be surprised they fought nature a bit to get the end result but that's what it takes to get images like those. Just the journey to that location must've been a feat for the whole cast and crew. I'd love to be able to talk to someone who worked on this film.

Anna Paquin in "The Piano" (1993)

I fell in love with Paquin and Hunter's performances. I was so blown away by the fact that Paquin was only 9 years old at the time. Watching her win at the Oscars in 1994 (on YouTube years later, I was only a year old in '94) just brings the biggest smile to my face. She's talked about how she doesn't remember much as being so young it's hard to process the moment, especially one as big as "The Piano". I'm sure it's like that for ever child actor. I barely remember what I was doing at 9 years old. I've followed her career ever since and loved everything she's done. I love seeing how far she's come as an actress and human being. HBO's "True Blood" is one of my favorite shows of all time. I loved how she essentially played Holly Hunter's 'Piano' role in Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" (2019).

Anna Paquin (left) & Holly Hunter (right) in "The Piano" (1993)

It's tremendous feat of cinema. I could talk for hours about this movie and how obsessed I've been with it over the years. I still listen to the soundtrack and recommend it to as many people as I can. My top 3 films of all time are "The Piano" (1993), "Chungking Express" (1994) and "Funny People" (2009). The latter two I discovered much later in life, "Funny People" (2009) on opening night though, but "The Piano" (1993) has remained #1 for most of my life.

Written by Sam Gall on 09/20/20

CGC Grading: Gem Mint 10.0

"Campion uses the jaw-dropping beauty of the west coast of New Zealand as the stunning backdrop for her febrile tale of obsession, desire and passion." - Rob Aldam, Backseat Mafia

"The Piano is dark, Gothic romance at its best. It's a quiet, intensely emotional film, where everything is depressing and beautiful at the same time." - Lindsay Pugh, Woman in Revolt

"This is cinema that fills every sense." - Lizzie Francke, Sight and Sound

"It's often incorrectly reduced to a feminist fable, but the scope of Jane Campion's achievement is broader. If anything The Piano is a masterwork of humanism." - Nathaniel Rogers, The Film Experience

Official Trailer:

Available on various VOD sites

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