Most romantic film #38: The Piano (1993)

This film by screenwriter/director Jane Campion is both terrifying and beautiful.

I remember vividly the first time I saw it, while visiting friends in Chicago. I was overwhelmed, stunned, seduced and shocked. It still haunts me.

THE PIANO turns on the story of Ada McGrath, a Scottish widow, whose minister father marries her by proxy to a man in New Zealand. Ada and her daughter Flora (played by Anna Paquin of TRUE BLOOD fame) travel across the globe to meet and live with her new husband, Alistair Stewart (played by Sam Neill).

Ada is mute by choice. Instead, she speaks with and through her piano, which she brings with her on the journey.

New Zealand is savage and unsettled. It is completely different from Scotland, but it speaks to Ada as her new husband does not. Their neighbor, however, a man named Baines (played by Harvey Keitel) is simultaneously brutish and erotic; he convinces Ada to give him piano lessons–when Stewart refuses to take in the piano–and the two become lovers.

Ada is a strong-willed woman who doesn’t fit into the mold of a modest and well-behaved 19th-century wife. She refuses to speak. She won’t mix in the European company of the tiny settlement in New Zealand. She won’t consummate her marriage with her husband.  Ada is played by Holly Hunter.

The story erupts into the passion between Ada and Baines, and then violence between Ada and Stewart.

Campion made a beautiful film: costumes, sets, and the wild, wild New Zealand coast and landscape. The film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, while Hunter won the Best Performance Prize. Hunter and Paquin won Oscars, as did the script.


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