The high-water mark from auteur Jane Campion (her third film- Sweetie and Angel At My Table) thus far—an almost bafflingly original love story shot with stark beauty off the coast in New Zealand.
The most striking shots in the film are the landscapes at the beach, characters or the piano shot in isolation
It’s not by a landslide (Raising Arizona, Broadcast News in Hunter’s incredible 1987) but I do have it as Holly Hunter’s strongest performance. She’s mute, but sets the tone with the almost mystic-like voice-over at the beginning (with a quick coda bookend). Needless to say for the length of the film she gives us a mesmerizing pantomime performance. Harvey Keitel and the young Anna Paquin’s performances aren’t far behind in support. And though his accomplishment here isn’t on the level of the three others here, Sam Neill, and his tremendous 1993 (Jurassic Park as well) should be praised.
I was perplexed by the lack of nom for Michael Nyman’s luminous score – swirling and smartly tied to the narrative as it begins to get dissonant at the film’s violent climax.
Hunter’s character speaks through her piano and her daughter Paquin. And Paquin is a riot– loud, moody, telling talltales and throwing fits. Haha.
Incredibly rich characterizations. Neill’s character views his new wife as a purchase, an investment, a possession in many ways. He locks her up, he trades her piano for gain—in contrast, Keitel’s character, from the beginning, listens to Hunter on the piano. He has it professionally tuned and that acts a resourceful form of courtship in a way. There’s also a key scene in the film where he cleans the piano naked—again—this is more than just a piano.
Hunter’s character, small in stature, strong, sexual
Campion sharply uses silent film tactics when casting and doing makeup for Kerry Walker – we see her urinating in one scene, a big mole – a shortcut when casting villains
Desaturated colors throughout—almost Gothic with their uniforms, blacks, dark blues and total lack of primaries
Extraordinary shots of Paquin walking up the hills like a Wes Anderson miniature in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Campion then tilts the camera on the hill, canted, powerful shot choice
The climax is magnificent filmmaking. Neill is wrestling Hunter in the mud, the haunting score pounding, Hunter’s silent wide-eyed stare