Sog., Scen.: Jane Campion. F.: Stuart Dryburgh. M.: Veronika Jenet. Scgf.: Andrew McAlpine. Mus.: Michael Nyman. Int.: Holly Hunter (Ada McGrath), Harvey Keitel (George Baines), Sam Neill (Alisdair Stewart), Anna Paquin (Flora McGrath), Kerry Walker (zia Morag), Geneviève Lemon (Nessie), Tungia Baker (Hira), Ian Mune (il reverendo). Prod.: Jan Chapman per Jan Chapman Productions, CiBy 2000. DCP. D.: 121’. Col.
Some time ago in 1993, the Cannes Film Festival was swept off its feet by the great film of a young filmmaker, who was accustomed to being well received by festivals ever since presenting her eccentric Sweetie on the Croisette in 1989. She was triumphant again in 1990, winning a Silver Lion at Venice for a film made with a different frame of mind and a different culture, An Angel at My Table, a biography of the writer Janet Frame.
This time Jane Campion brought a story of her own to the festival – one she had invented, written and directed. It would bring her the glory of the Palme d’Or and three Oscars. It was more than just a story; it was a cosmogony and the invention of an unknown world – the easternmost point of the planet – as a companion to the epic of the West.
The title The Piano immediately attracted the viewer’s attention to an important narrative element. The piano occupies the centre of the screen and draws out some of the film’s underlying themes from the very first scene of the tumultuous landing in New Zealand: the clash of cultures, discovery of the other, love of art, and the difficult relationship between natives and colonisers.
It is 1825. Ada (Holly Hunter), a young widow who has not spoken since the age of six, has been sent with her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) to the dark beaches of New Zealand after being married by proxy to a lonely and crude colonialist (Sam Neill). He wants to stop her from playing her piano, and leaves it to stand in the pouring rain on the beach. Meanwhile, Ada weaves a secret story of love and sex with George, a half-Maori settler played by Harvey Keitel. Out of jealousy, her petulant daughter lets the husband know what is going on between Ada and George. With a magnificent performance in eloquent silence by Holly Hunter, the film transforms the piano becomes a symbol of culture that can communicate despite the odds, epitomising music’s ability to bring people together.