"...Down there everything is so still and silent that it lulls me to sleep.
It is a weird lullaby and so it is; it is mine...."
Released 1993, Eastman Color
Runtime: 121 minutes
Certification: Australia: M / USA: R
Principal Cast & Crew
Holly Hunter - Ada
Harvey Keitel - Baines
Sam Neill - Stewart
Anna Paquin - Flora
Kerry Walker - Aunt Morag
Genevieve Lemon - Nessie
Ian Mune - Reverend
Peter Dennett - Head Seaman
Te Whatanui Skipwith - Chief Nihe
Pete Smith III - Hone
Bruce Allpress - Blind Piano Tuner
Director: Jane Campion
Producer: Jan Chapman
Writer: Jane Campion
Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh
Original Music: Michael Nyman
Editor: Veronika Jenet
Production Design: Andrew McAlpine
Australian Film Commission
CiBy 2000 (France)
New South Wales Film & Television Office (Australia)
Also Known As:
Black Keys, The (1992) (Australia: working title)
Leçon de piano, La (1993) (France)
Piano Lesson, The (1993) (Australia: original script title)
Pleasure (1992) (Australia: working title)
Australia - 5th August 1993
USA - 12 Nov 1993
France - 19 May 1993
Germany - 12 August 1993
Finland - 27 August 1993
Sweden - 27 August 1993
Argentina - 2 September 1993
Denmark - 22 October 1993
Canada - 19 November 1993
Spain - 17 December 1993
Box Office figures
SEK 22,405,339 (Sweden)
£3.512m (UK) (6 February 1994)
£3.002m (UK) (16 January 1994)
£2.301m (UK) (12 December 1993)
(no figures available for Australia)
Awards and Nominations (Full list can be obtained form the Internet Movie Database)
The Oscars (66th Academy Awards)
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Best Actress in a Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Best Picture - nominated
Director - nominated
Film Editing - nominated
Cinematography - nominated
Costume Design - nominated
LA Film Critics awards(1993)
Best Actress: Holly Hunter, The Piano
Supporting Actress: Anna Paquin, The Piano
Director: Jane Campion, The Piano
Screenplay: Jane Campion, The Piano
AFI Awards (1993)
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Best Achievement in Costume Design
Best Achievement in Editing
Best Achievement in Production Design
Best Achievement in Sound
Best Actor in a Lead Role
Best Actress in a Lead Role
Best Original Music Score
Best Screenplay Original
Best Actor in s Supporting Role - nominated
Best Actress in a Supporting Role - nominated
Monographic related book
Gatti, Ilaria. Jane Campion. Le Mani, 1998.
Printed Media Reviews
Bernard, Jean-Jacques. In: Première (France). June 1993. p. 16. (MG)
D'Yvoire, Christophe. In: Studio (France). June 1993. p. 10. (MG)
Kamsvaag, Geir. In: FilmMagasinet. (Norway) June/July 1994. p. 85. (MG)
Bednarz, Christina. In: cinema. (Hamburg). 29.07.1993. (MG)
Ludvigsson, Bo. Hetta och kyla vid pianot. In: Svenska
Dagbladet (Sweden). 27 August 1993 (NP)
Presence on the Web
Sean Connery's Hair Raising Movie Shoot
WENN, 10 May 2000
Campion In Deal With Propaganda
StudioBrief, 24 September 1997
Movie Review Query Engine
"The Piano, Synopsis" Paul Brenner, All Movie Guide
1993 La Leçon de piano (Nouvelle-Zélande)
Antulov, Dragan. (1999) "The Piano" All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
Bernrdinelli, J. (1993) "The Piano: A Film Review by James Berardinelli"
Webster, B. "The Piano" for Apollo Guide Review (1998 - 2002)
Schwartz, D. (1999) "Piano (1993)"
Gordon, R. (2001) "A Variety of Love Through a Single Voice: A Review by Rachel Gordon"
Rhodes, S. (1996) "The Piano: A film review by Steve Rhodes"
Soco, D.(1994) "Feminist Film Criticism: The Piano and 'the Female Gaze'.
HTML document created April 30, 1997. [date accessed: 1st May 2002]
Most of my resource gathering happened on the Internet, using the Internet Movie Database as a starting point, and various other search engines, such as AltaVista and Excite to supplement my searching. Sourcing printed media did not prove to be as successful as looking on the Internet. 9 years have gone by since The Piano was released so one would have to dig deep into printed archives to dredge out this information.
I did encounter some obstacles while searching - especially - for box office related information. Ironically, finding box office figures for the Australian release of The Piano proved especially difficult. I cannot say whether this is because of the availability of those figures or my searching technique (most probably the latter), but as you can see, those figures are regrettably absent in this review.
Interviews with cast or crew were also exceptionally difficult to locate, given again the amount of time that has lapsed since it was released.
The Piano revolves around its main protagonist, Ada McGrath, a woman who for some unexplained reason turned mute at the age of six - or so we are told by her "mind's voice", the voice-over at the beginning of the film, set in the 1800s. Ada and her daughter Flora travel to New Zealand, as the arranged family of Stewart, and Englishman who lives and toils the land there.
Their arrival in New Zealand is hardly one of pomp and ceremony. Ada and her daughter have to spend their first night in a strange land camped out on the beach with their luggage, an item of which is Ada's piano. Stewart arrives with Baines, his neighbour, and Maori bearers to carry Ada's luggage the next day. While organizing the transport of Ada's possession, Stewart decides that the piano is too heavy to carry back to his homestead, and despite fierce insistence from Ada, refuses to oblige and the company take their leave, leaving it on the beach.
Ada, feeling the need for the piano, which serves as her outlet of expression, her "voice", approaches Baines with Flora some time later and pleads with him to bring them to the beach where they landed. Baines objects initially, but is finally won over, and they head back to the beach, where they spend the rest of the day, with Baines carefully observing the Ada's interaction and response to the piano.
Baines later approaches Stewart and offers a tract of land in exchange for the piano, and lessons from Ada. The unsuspecting Stewart enthusiastically agrees, and Baines has it brought to his cottage. Knowing her longing for the instrument, he tells her that she can earn the piano back; one visit for every key. Only the black keys, she insists. And so their bargain is sealed. What happens next is an exploration of passion between Stewart's wife and his neighbour, an unlikely a pair as any, while Stewart finds himself a helpless (and cuckolded) bystander.
This is a film that explores the deeper and darker emotional sides of human beings - passion, love, betrayal, fear and how they are all tangled into volatile web and its consequences.
In many of the reviews which have given this movie a less-than three star rating (out of five), its editing has been called into question. Reviews have criticized the sometimes jumpy, abrupt cutting in many of the scenes, saying among other things, that it disrupts the flow of the film. Personally, I find that contrary to disrupting the flow, the irregular cutting brings forth an aspect of the film that is neither verbalized nor portrayed in the acting - the lightning shift of passion - its quick transgression from love, hate, indifference and despair; all of which are important themes in the movie. This is also important when one considers the gaze in the film. Jump cutting helps define certain scenes from Ada's point of view, imitating the quick shifting movement of the eyes as she takes in her surroundings. In a lot of the film, the dominant gaze belongs to Ada, and hence things are seen in her point of view, which brings me to my next point.
Another criticism leveled at the film is the one-dimensional portrayal of Stewart, and to a lesser extent, Baines. Certainly there is no development on the part of these two characters. Out insight to their personalities are limited to their words and actions to Ada. However, if we consider that the film presents them from Ada's point of view, it makes more sense. Often when one of recounting a past event to another person, people mentioned in that tale are never given much development outside the context and motivation of the tale. Whether or not this is a deliberate machination of the director, it certainly comes across that way.
Also perhaps this little tactic of reducing the character development of the men is a feminist response to the overt misogyny present in the film. Aside from the character depicts, most Hollywood films are more often made with an inherent male gaze. Viewers, male or female, are forced to identify with the male character because these gazes are patriarchal; therefore there is a need to establish the masculine gaze before using it to define the feminine role. In reducing the importance of Stewart and Baines by keeping their characters shallow, Jane Campion empowers the feminine gaze.
White supremacy too is addressed in the film. Stewart is shown from the start as pompous, emotionally stunted, insensitive and something of a cuckold. He is also the only white man in the film. Baines, although white, has symbolically 'transcended' the typical definition because of the Maori tattoos on his face, which aligns him more with the Maoris than Stewart. Stewart on the other hand, farcically performs Englishness to a fault, from the top hat to the suit and the neat, combed hair, in his first appearance in the film. Except that in a land where all these "qualities" are unnecessary, impractical, and above all else, despised because of their associations with colonialization, he stands out as a beacon to be laughed at.
Notably though, Jane Campion forces us to consider the feminine desire in relation to Hollywood film. Unlike the sexual temptresses of Hollywood cinema, Ada is not a curvaceous, flesh-baring siren that captures the imagination. Were she a typical Hollywood heroine, some of the potency of the film might have been lost. Instead, she is plain, small, mute and with a disposition that is anything but attractive in conventional Hollywood taste. The same can be said for Baines. He does not share any of the qualities of the conventional Hollywood hero either.
The unlikely pairing of these two characters forces us to address the issue of presentation of passion and its source. Aside from the moments where Baines and Ada are actually engaging in physical intercourse, the heat that is stirred between them possesses no phallocentric qualities. The issues of the phallus are ever raised. The erotic pleasure is subtler than the act of sex itself. Its lure is to be found in the discreet elements such as the music, or the image of her hands playing the keys, rather than the sight of the bare bodies of her and Baines. Certainly it is not something that would be showcased in internet or magazine porn because the sight of their bodies does not evoke much masculine pleasure.
In Chapter 12 of Australian National Cinema, Tom O'Regan mentions the lower participation rates from women in certain sectors of the film industry, as well as a concentration in masculine centered storylines (and hence male leads) onscreen. The recognition of the proverbial Aussie battler as inherently white and male does no favours for women in and out of the industry as well, which is why film like The Piano, Monkey's Mask, and Muriel's Wedding (among others) given Australian cinema another aspect of itself to reconsider. The Piano certainly redefines masculinity within the context of its female lead, which is something we have come to expect from director Jane Campion.
The Piano would certainly fit the bill of the "quality" Australian film. It deals with cultural issues and serves as a commentary for them, and feminism in particular, in the contemporary landscape in the western world. In it, Ada's muteness is symbolic of her having no control over her own life, a reflection on Australian film in general, such as Walkabout, Sunday Too Far Away and Crocodile Dundee. In all of these films, women are either shown as little more than living baggage, or entirely not present at all. In The Piano, it is no different. Ada is Stewart's bargaining chip, to be exchanged for land, which Stewart obviously finds more valuable.
In her other work, such as the 1999 film Holy Smoke and more notably Sweetie (1989), films which have given voice to Australian women, both on- and off-screen. Certainly, within The Piano, Campion concentrates on empowering the female and more importantly, the feminine, a cultural label which has taken on the burden of being overshadowed by its antithesis, the masculine. Their wants and desires are given legitimacy to rather than that of the males.
A medium-sized English Language Cinema
As an English language speaking national cinema, Australian Cinema is in direct competition with the international cinema Hollywood. The Piano has done well in asserting itself as the product of a medium sized national cinema. It retains that characteristic while making its mark in the international cinema scene by being nominated for and winning numerous awards, most significantly The Oscars, the Golden Globes, and of course, the AFI (Australian Film Institute) Awards.
O'Regan, T. (1996) Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge.
For web references, refer to the Presence on the Web section