Magazine article Screen International

'The Piano' (1993) - Screen's 40 at 40

Magazine article Screen International

'The Piano' (1993) - Screen's 40 at 40

Article excerpt

Director: Jane Campion (US)

When The Piano writer-director Jane Campion won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1993 (shared with Chen Kaige), she made history as the first female film-maker to do so - and, at the time of writing, remains the only woman ever to be so honoured.

It's fitting, then, that New Zealand-born Campion conceived The Piano as a feminist epic and, by the time of its production, was already making a name for herself as an astute commentator on gender politics.

Shorts such as A Girl's Own Story (1984), debut feature Sweetie (1989) and the multiple award-winning An Angel At My Table (1990) all featured female protagonists struggling to make themselves heard, and marked Campion as an authentic female voice in contrast to the machismo-driven action fare dominating the box office.

Set in the 1850s, The Piano tells the story of a mute woman, Ava (Holly Hunter), who along with her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin), is sent to New Zealand for an arranged marriage. Once there, she meets forester Baines (Harvey Keitel), who buys Ava's beloved piano so he can barter it back to her, key by key, in return for increasingly intimate favours.

This bold narrative, which relies heavily on dialogue-free expression and deals with themes of female exploitation, is exquisitely handled by Campion and, through its masterful screenplay, sublime performances and evocative piano score by Michael Nyman, reveals itself as a haunting and tender love story.

After making its North American premiere at Hawaii International Film Festival, The Piano was released in the US by Miramax on October 1993 and achieved domestic box-office receipts of more than $40m (against a reported budget of $7m). …

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