The Piano

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

The Piano

Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993), is one of my favourite films ever, if not the favourite. Which is why I find it so hard to write about it – it’s like trying to write about somebody you love. But I find myself wanting to say something about it now, however imperfect and incomplete. This is a ‘non-review’ I suppose: a description of my adoration rather than a distanced and rounded analysis of the film. If you want to read something objective on The Piano, I suggest you stop reading my own words now.

There’s a scene in The Piano that makes the sensitive hairs at the back of my neck stand on end. In truth, there are many other scenes in the film that do that, but this one does so in particular. It’s when Baines watches Ada’s nape as she plays piano. He then begins to very slowly touch her fingers, her wrists, her elbows, her arms, and then her neck and back. Desire has become such a cliché on screen: heaving chests, rough breathing, glamorous shots of a woman’s thighs, heads thrown back in ecstasy. You get the picture. It’s rarely a delicate thing, rarely something that speaks beyond the sexual act itself, the way that making yourself physically vulnerable to another human being is something that also speaks beyond what actually goes on in the bedroom. This scene could have so easily collapsed into something boring and standard, but instead it becomes lovingly entwined with the rest of the film’s themes.

For me, so much of this film is about generosity, and the physical body as a marker of that. Ada speaks through her fingers, and it’s through them that she tries to connect with other people. When she transfers this communication to the rest of her body through desire, she also learns the difference between being owned and possessing your own body. The piano, a mirror of herself, is something that moves between being a possession and a gift. I once saw an interview with the actress Juliette Binoche in which she spoke about what it actually means to her to be nude in a film. She described how she views her willingness to share her body with an audience for a narrative as an act of generosity, determined by its context. And also, how she finds it sad that such generosity is often received as something lewd, used to objectify her body. I think I understood what she was saying in this interview when I saw The Piano. Ada’s body, like the colonised native people of New Zealand, is legally and physically possessed by men who pass her around like property. Baines may initially approach her body in the same manner, but her romance with him is something that quickly moves in an opposite direction to suggest the gift of the body, rather than its ownership.

I don’t pretend that this is what the film is about in its entirety. It’s probably only one aspect out of many. But whenever I watch this scene I’m so moved by Campion’s ability to evoke desire and represent the body without making me feel like the actors and the characters are being diminished. There are very few films I can actually say that about. It would take me a dozen more posts to say all I want to say about this film though, and I won’t subject you to that!


Anonymous said...

After reading this, I really MUST see the film. Thanks for your lovely words!

If Jane said...

it's one of my favourite films as well and most in part because everything about it feels seamless. i'm never bothered about nudity nor do i feel that it diminishes the actor if it is justified and not gratuitous.

Mariella said...

wonderful movie indeed. I watched it ages ago. maybe time for a comeback. It would be interesting to see what feelings would stir in this phase of my life.

Caro said...

I so enjoy this film. It was interesting to read some of your thoughts regarding it.

I would never tire of posts exploring this!

rooth said...

I just saw this film recently and it was rather haunting in some parts - thanks for sharing your viewpoint and what it meant to you

Nastya said...

Sounds definitely worth watching. Thanks for writing about interesting movies!

Danielle P. said...

Although I purchased the gorgeous soundtrack when it was released, I never saw the movie. I always thought I'd stumble upon it someday, but now it seems I'll have to take matters into my own hands and order the DVD.

T C said...

thanks for introducing it:)agree that it`s sometimes difficult to review the favorite films,but you did that great, Hila said...

Lovely piece. Thanks for sharing. - Rochelle

Jane Flanagan said...

I haven't seen this film in a very long time... really must watch again. Very beautiful, sensitive post!

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

I recall watching this film on the big screen, so long ago. So long ago I almost feel I was a different person at the time. Memories. I wish I could see it again, up on a large screen in a big dark theatre.

odessa said...

Believe it or not, I have not seen it yet. Thanks for reminding me why i need to.

banana meet-cute said...

One of my absolute favourites too. As a proud kiwi I still remember watching when Anna Paquin won the Oscar for her role, she was so tiny and overwhelmed by it all!

I find it impossible to write about films I love too. I also feel like I don't want to analyse them so deeply because that would take away some of the pure enjoyment. However, if you were to write a dozen more posts about the Piano I would happily read them!

Chuck said...

I don't know why I've never seen this. It looks beautiful and I loved Bright Star. Will have to put it on my list. Your screenshots make me think of Oscar & Lucinda for some reason. Not sure why...

I understand what you mean about Never Let Me Go. I will have to give the book a go because the idea is interesting. Also, need to read your review proper. Will do that now! x

Sally said...

A film from my "to-watch" list that is now moving to the top! Even just your description of the love scenes resonated with me, there really are too few films who can so subtly, successfully do that.

Sometimes I'm too wary to even share my favorite films, let alone discuss them - like that's giving away something I wish I could treasure all for my own, a private experience (though of course that's not true and also a selfish way to think of things). So thanks for being generous with your favorites and thoughts! :)

Stephanie said...

Such a beautiful movie. One of my favorites!

Kelly said...

I really agree with & appreciate what Sally says above. It takes a kind of courage to bare yourself in naming the things so special to you. This same thing used to give me stomach aches in grad school for my English degree -- knowing some of my favorite works were being torn apart by young hipsters. I even skipped a couple of classes, just to avoid it all!

Anyway, thank you for again adding to my growing list of things you've inspired me to re-read & re-watch.

(And look at little Anna Paquin there, with nary a vampire in sight!)

Hila said...

Anonymous: My pleasure!

If Jane: me neither, but too often it's totally pointless, and not very well done :)

Mariella: true, I wonder what I'll think of it in a few years' time.

Caro: oh thanks, I would never tire of writing them!

Rooth: it is a very haunting film - and also, very Gothic in a way.

Nastya: yes, it's definitely one to watch.

Danielle: you really must see it, I think you'd like it.

TC: thanks, I hope I did :)

Rochelle: Thanks Rochelle! It means a lot coming from you.

Jane: thanks Jane, from one sensitive lady to another.

Denise: that would be great, I'd love to see it on the big screen too.

Odessa: Then you're in for a treat!

banana meet-cute: I understand that. But maybe I'm strange because analysing films I love makes me love them even more - even if there are flaws along the way.

Chuck: oh yes, I get the Oscar and Lucinda vibe. Campion has her own distinct style, I don't think she's done a film I haven't loved.

And I'm glad I made some sense with my comment on Never Let Me Go on your blog. Sometimes I ramble about films ...

Sally: I was wary about this post too. Heck, I'm wary about most of my posts though - there are so much opportunities to be misunderstood, sometimes I get protective over things I love as well.

Stephanie: Mine too, for sure.

Kelly: Thanks, that means a lot to me. Sometimes I read through this blog and wonder how much of myself I reveal, whether it's wise, etc. But I love talking about these things.

And yes, not a vampire in sight ;)

wingeddeer said...

I had wanted to watch this movie for ever, and finally did this week after seeing you were writing about it (I even saved reading your whole post for after I did!). And thank you, it is one of those things that take you whole and get so deep...

I was very impressed and touched by Ada's character and after reading your last post about delicacy, I have to say she's an embodiment of that sort of delicacy that is strength. As if her iron will was somehow expressed through her grace.

Hila said...

Wingeddeer: I'm so glad you saw it! Yes, I know what you mean about Ada - she's a combination of strength and delicacy.

BrigittaR said...

I love film (even blog about it) but I have never watched this one. I think because of my age when it came out - I felt like it was a scary film for adults. Scary because of life, not monsters if you know what I mean.

You've put it on my radar again as a 'must see'. But we'll see.

Maša said...

It's one of my favorite movies too! I also find it to be highly erotic. it really evokes my desire which rarely happens (cliches probably made me immune).

Hila said...

BrigittaR: I know what you mean, if I saw this film at a younger age, I probably wouldn't have understood it.

Masa: cliches make me immune too, which is why this film was so powerful. It's an incredibly erotic film, without resorting to objectification. That's so very difficult to accomplish, I admire Campion's filmmaking so much.

Sarah Allegra said...

I have to admit; I had never seen the movie until recently. I started to read your post about it, stopped, and decided I would have to watch the movie first.

I'm so glad you introduced me to this film! I only watched it yesterday, so it's still 'digesting' in my subconscious, but I fully enjoyed it and have a feeling I will be back for more viewings. I was really taken with it's understated, subtle sensuality and beauty... and I also loved that they were putting on a play of Bluebeard, since I love fairytales :)

Thank you again!