The Piano (1993) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's notes

A mute woman (Holly Hunter) lives in Scotland with her father and her illegitimate daughter. She only "speaks" in sign language through her daughter (Anna Paquin), or by playing the piano. Daddy manages to marry her off, sight unseen, to a man now living in New Zealand. When she arrives on the Kiwi coast with her belongings, including her piano, her intended (Sam Neill) makes her leave her piano on the beach. If you are guessing that this made for a rather chilly honeymoon, you are way ahead of me.

When hubby takes off on a small trip, she strikes up a platonic relationship with a European neighbor who has embraced the Maori and gone native (Harvey Keitel). The neighbor hears her play, senses what she wants and needs, and hatches a plan to seduce her. He trades 80 acres of land to her husband for the piano, but demands that she be his teacher. It is then that she figures out that she can win back her piano by getting increasingly friendly with the neighbor. When her uptight husband discovers this hanky-panky, things get out of hand, although the film does manage an upbeat ending.

For those who enjoy symbolism, The Piano is dripping with it, to the extent that director Jane Campion even won the Golden Palm at Cannes, where symbolism can actually be exchanged for Francs at a very favorable rate. It wasn't just the French who loved it. Nearly every critic found it to be one of the top films of the year, and virtually every element of the film won awards: writing, direction, acting, and even the technical aspects. The film earned more prestigious honors than I have the time or energy to list, highlighted by Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. It might have won in many years, but lost out to the Schindler's List juggernaut, thus showing that 1993 was obviously the year for long meaningful films. A young Anna Paquin received numerous best supporting actress nods, and Holly Hunter was everyone's pick as best actress, winning the Oscar by keeping her mouth completely shut and her clothes off. I mention this in the hope that many other actresses will read this and try the same tactic.

It would be easy for me to write a review oozing with enthusiasm for this highly acclaimed film, but it would be enthusiasm I don't feel. The pace is extremely deliberate, and much of the film is a piano concert, evidently featuring music actually played by Hunter. Hunter's performance may have truly been brilliant, but I was not entertained or enchanted by this mute character who rarely showed any expression on her face. Paquin did an impressive job with a huge role, but I got very tired of her shrieking, and I never did see what about Sam Neill finally won her over. I don't dislike the film, but I must wonder if everyone who praised this film so enthusiastically 13 years ago would feel as strongly about it today. IMDb voters now score it a good-not-great 7.3, and the top 1000 voters score it even lower at 6.9. Yahoo Movies voters score it a mediocre B- on their softball scale (That's the same score as Deuce Bigalow.)



  • The primitive DVD includes a letterbox widescreen transfer and a full screen version, but absolutely no meaningful extra features. The film would greatly benefit from a new transfer and a commentary. I might even watch that.



Holly Hunter shows her breasts and bum, including a procto-cam shot.

Scoop's notes

If your taste runs to action movies, this is absolutely not your cup of tea, but if you appreciate some thoughtful filmmaking, you might enjoy this story about a Scottish woman who goes across the world to an arranged marriage with a stranger who lives in in a bleak part of New Zealand. Her new husband  (Sam Neill) is so insensitive that he will not help her transport to his home the piano she managed to drag from Scotland to the nearby beach in New Zealand. A roughneck neighbor, who has virtually gone native Maori (Harvey Keitel), trades the husband some land for the piano, and then allows the wife to buy it back key by key with sexual favors. Despite his use of sexual blackmail and his savage appearance, the neighbor turns out to be far more tender and complex than the man she came to marry.

Jane Campion is the only female director ever to win the Golden Palm at Cannes, and was only the second woman ever to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar. Lina Wertmueller was the first, and Sofia Coppola has since become the third, but none of them won the award. Campion did win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

I'm in the same boat as Tuna. I have unbound admiration for this film, but not one whit of passion. It is clear to me that a background of still nature and piano music, splendid acting, and some artistic photographic composition of the New Zealand coasts and rain forests make this film a masterpiece in many ways, but the Golden Palm awarded to The Piano at Cannes probably tells you all you need to know about it, good and bad.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three and a half out of four stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 4/4.


The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Made for only $7 million, The Piano grossed $40 million domestically, despite being in only 671 theaters. That's more per screen than some $200 million blockbusters! While it never cracked the very top of the charts, it stayed in the top fifteen for months.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a B. Given the awards and the fact that the film earned a phenomenally large amount of money for an art film, The Piano is clearly a B by our definition, irrespective of our lack of passion for it.

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