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Invasion of the Pretentious Art Film

I watched Jane Campion’s The Piano last night. I was supposed to watch it Monday in Aesthetics, but as usual, I ditched out early and rented the movie to watch over the weekend. It’s a bad movie. A very bad movie. It won all sorts of acclaim and popularity, despite being an indie flick that on the surface doesn’t seem entirely accessible to a wide audience (or, for that matter, any audience). But I know why.

As I watched the movie, I kept thinking of a line from The Simpsons: “Um, excuse me…proactive and paradigm? Aren’t these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important?” With a few minor alterations, that sentence can be applied to The Piano: it’s an “art film” that dumb people enjoy (or claim to enjoy) to seem important. Ooh, I’m well-rounded because I saw an art film last night.

Well, I got news for the dumb people. Monochrome cinematography and Harvey Keitel’s penis do not an art film make. Here’s my main problem with it: its unbearable use of symbolism. Symbolic imagery or devices don’t bother me in general. They bother me when they are so obvious, they aren’t even symbols anymore. The piano. Gee, I wonder what that’s supposed to imply. I mean, all of the symbols and moments of foreshadowing are so cheesily obvious that anybody with an IQ over 40 slaps his head and thinks, “Why am I wasting my time with this?”

I cringed at the end when they knock the piano off the boat, but her foot gets caught in the rope and she’s pulled underwater. And then, after letting it drag her down, she finally struggles to break free of the rope and gets back to the surface. IS THAT A METAPHOR? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITY OF THIS COMPLEX FILM. I think this was supposed to be some sort of epiphany moment, and I guess it was, for I had an epiphany: this movie sucks.

It did have a couple of redeeming qualities. Harvey Keitel’s penis is not one of them. I don’t want that statement to sound all homophobic—it’s just that, if given a choice of any male actor who I’d like to see fully nude, Harvey Keitel would not be anywhere near my list of candidates. In fact, his name would be somewhere in an alternate dimension where fish live in the sky and women wear underwear on their head.

Sorry, got a little sidetracked. Among the redeeming qualities: Anna Paquin’s performance, and the music. Her performance won a much-deserved Oscar. It’s kind of surprising that somebody so young could so thoroughly get what her purpose in the film was. It’s also amazing that with a pretty decent cast, she managed to out-act everybody at such a young age. But, hey, she’s no Hermione.

The music was also very good. A lot of interesting, wacky stuff, most of it on the piano. I never really dug the piano until I started listening to Dinu Lipatti, and now I have sort of a bizarre appreciation for it as an instrument. But the score itself is amazingly complex—there doesn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason to any of the musical progressions, but yet it all somehow adds up.

As for the rest of it—shit. Full of symbols and metaphors that a four-year-old on acid would comprehend with no problem. And all I really have to say was that I guess it was good that I didn’t stay and watch it in class. My Aesthetics professor—who, despite being a verbose lunatic, usually has pretty good taste in movies—was insisting that this film was one of the great triumphs of the past two decades, and he made us all promise that when we discussed it afterward, nobody would say anything negative about it. Kind of a strange promise to make, but I wouldn’t have been able to keep it.

My rating: * 1/2 (out of 4)

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