Thursday, October 12, 2006

19. New Zealander Jane Campion's "The Piano" (1993): Clever film that makes you wonder


This film won the Cannes Film Festival's top honor the year it was released. It is a good film. It's a clever film. You would love it, if you don't reflect on the film too much. If you do reflect on what you saw, you will begin to re-evaluate the movie, the director Campion and finally, the screenplay writer Campion, who reworked the "Bluebeard" story.

I have seen the movie twice. I liked it the first time because it was refreshingly different, restrained in some parts, erotic to an extent, with some brilliant camerawork of Stuart Drybergh and choreography (specifically, the beach scene with Holly Hunter, Keitel and Paquin, with the overhead shot and the imaginative designs of footprints in the sand).

My second viewing had me reassessing if a viewer can be led to like a film without thinking rationally. Take the example of Paquin carrying the piano key with the written message. She takes one path, retraces it and takes another. This crucial action changes the course of the film. Why did she make that choice? Coincidence? If it was deliberate, the relationship between the child and foster father is not adequately developed. The director persuades us to notice this decision with a high angle shot. We in the audience know that Kietel's character is illiterate--but the message is finally read by someone who could read. And so the story gathers momentum.

The "quiet" strength of the film is in the character who chooses to remain mute. A finger is chopped off but there is no howl of pain, only blood, only a resignation to fate.

Despite a great performance by Hunter and impressive direction by Campion, I begin to have a nagging doubt if the audience is meant to leave their mind behind and merely indulge their senses, what they see and hear...On second viewing, the script seems more manipulative rather than virtuous. In the epilogue, what are we to make of the metal prosthetic finger--that all is healed? Or was it a convenient way to end the film?

Whether you like the film or not, the film improves our appreciation of cinema as a fascinating medium of entertainment.

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