The Piano (1993)


Holly Hunter picked up an Academy Award for her performance as Ada, a rebellious mute who finds solace and a means of expression only with her beloved piano in Jane Campion’s gorgeously crafted and erotically charged The Piano. Ada is married off to Stewart (Sam Neill), a sexually repressed land developer in Victorian New Zealand. When she and her young daughter (Anna Paquin) first come ashore, Stewart makes a costly error, commanding his Maori helpers to leave the heavy piano on the beach. From there on out, The Piano becomes a tumultuous love triangle. While Ada shuns Stewart’s awkward advances, she becomes involved with Stewart’s foreman Baines (Harvey Keitel), who acquires the piano and offers it to Ada key by key in exchange for sexual favors. The relationships spiral out of control, leading to a violent climax and narrowly avoiding a tragic ending.

In The Piano, a tiny hole in a stocking generates more sexual charge than all the orgies in Caligula combined. During one of Baines’ and Ada’s early encounters, he negotiates with her about how far they’ll go, and for how many keys. Ada is at that point reluctant, but Baines makes the most of it by circling a tiny hole in her stocking with his finger. Everyone’s clothes are on (though Keitel goes full-frontal later on), but Campion turns it into the film’s most sensuous moment — my favorite scene.

Campion’s Oscar-winning original screenplay offers three compelling characters in Ada, Stewart, and Baines, who play against an equally fascinating backdrop — a primal wilderness that mirrors their own murky indiscretions. The film is buoyed by Stuart Dryburgh’s spectacular cinematography and a haunting score by Michael Nyman. Young Anna Paquin picked up the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her debut performance.

Academy Awards: Best Actress (Hunter), Supporting Actress (Paquin), Original Screenplay (Campion)

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing

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