The Piano | Chicago Reader

The Piano

Sweetie and An Angel at My Table have taught us to expect startling as well as beautiful things from Jane Campion, and this assured and provocative third feature (1993) offers yet another lush parable—albeit a bit more calculated and commercially minded—about the perils and paradoxes of female self-expression. Set during the last century, this original story by Campion—which evokes at times some of the romantic intensity of Emily Brontë—focuses on a Scottish widow (Holly Hunter) who hasn't spoken since her childhood, presumably by choice, and whose main form of self-expression is her piano playing. She arrives with her nine-year-old daughter in the New Zealand wilds to enter into an arranged marriage, which gets off to an unhappy start when her husband-to-be (Sam Neill) refuses to transport her piano. A local white man living with the Maori natives (Harvey Keitel) buys the piano from him and, fascinated by and attracted to the mute woman, agrees to "sell" it back to her a key at a time in exchange for lessons, with ultimately traumatic consequences.

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