"When I first heard about Michael Haneke's "The Piano Teacher", about a sexually repressed instructor at the Vienna Conservatory, I thought it was exactly the kind of movie I didn't want to see. In a world awash in pop music, South Park and Britney videos, how could a film about the stultifyingly uptight classical music world have *any* relevance for a post-modern, post-everything film buff (even if he is American?) Didn't Bergman tread this ground 40 years ago? Didn't Bunuel make savage fun of the hypocrisy of bourgeois sexual respectability in "Belle de Jour" (1966)? Wasn't Haneke a little behind the times? Walking - or I should say staggering - out of the theater 2.5 hours later, I was humbled by the scope of Haneke's and Huppert's achievement. Rarely have I seen a film both so clear-eyed about sexual psychosis and yet so compassionate as well. Isabelle Huppert, who probably wasn't nominated for an Oscar only because the film can be so off-putting to some, gives what can only be described as an intense performance. Her clenched face and the darting movements of her eyes reveal more about her character - her inner rage, her self-hatred - than most actors can achieve with sheets and sheets of dialouge. That's the essence of the film, everything is very formally *controlled* - so that when violence, self-inflicted or otherwise, breaks out, it is startling because it emerges from such as civilized veneer.If the point of the film were to demonstrate the High Culture spiritually deforms those who engage in it (and I don't think it does), the film would have minimal interest. High culture has been on the defensive so long, it doesn't need to be blamed for driving Isabelle Huppert nuts as well. Rather the film gains its strength from watching a seriously damaged human being - damaged in ways only suggested at - construct a protective cocoon around herself that fails to protect her from troublesome feelings and desires. The film is somewhat similar to Neil Jordan's great film, "The Butcher Boy" whose protagonist uses an opposite strategy - relentless good cheer -to mask the absolute misery he's sinking into. In these two films, as well as other recent films like Noe's "I Stand Alone", Nyutten's "L'Humanite", Haneke's other recent film "Code: Unknown" and Tim Roth's "The War Room", European filmmakers are portraying contemporary Europe as a society rife with cultural and psychological malaise - along with a great uncertainty as to ability of others to ameliorate the misery that man hands to his fellow man."The Piano Teacher" is important - essential even - not because Isabelle Huppert is asked to do things on camera few major actresses would willingly agree to. The film gets right to the dark heart of our contemporary malaise - our declining faith in the ability of culture - or anything - to ease us out of our despair and mitigate the cruelty we often see around us. The film is extremely distributing, enraging but not empty - it was the most provocative piece of cinema to be release in the US last year."
Huppert magnificent in the title role of The Piano Teacher
Russell Fanelli | Longmeadow, MA USA | 07/23/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Piano Teacher shows us a few days in the life of a disturbed woman who is both victim and victimizer. Isabelle Huppert briliantly plays the part of Erika Kohut, a middle-aged piano teacher at a music college in Vienna. Annie Giradot is no less effective as her domineering and watchful mother. The two women abuse one another physically and verbally. This relationship is long standing and comes to a crisis as the film progresses.Erika is unable to break the bonds that attach her to her mother. Instead, like a child who has never grown up, she wants to please her mother, but is driven to act out her own fantasies secretly. Her mother appears to be unaware of the deep seated repression that is consuming her daughter. What she does see is an angry, hateful person who lies to her and deceives her frequently.Erika's sexual frustration takes the form of physical and pschological self-hate. She visits porn shops to degrade herself and she mutilates her body to distract her from the intense psychological pain she suffers constantly.At school her anger takes the form of verbal abuse to her students who are unable to achieve the artistic integrity she demands. What appears to be an inflated sense of her own importance as an artist masks her frustration at being second-rate. She is not good enough to be recognized as an artist in her own right. Her hatred of herself and her inadequacy as an artist prompt her to strike out at students and colleagues alike.Into her seething cauldron of despair comes a young engineering student, Walter Klemmer, wonderfully played by Benoit Maginel, who wants to study Schubert with her. At first she refuses him, but pressure by the school to accept him forces her to work with him. The sexual tension between teacher and pupil is immediately apparent and moves forward to a collision some reviewers have likened to a bad car accident.In the end we see Erika and her student reduced to the lowest common demoninator as human beings. At first Erika is successful at dominating her young student, but the tables are turned as she becomes dependent on him. Both teacher and student are playing a zero sum game to lose. The final climax and its denoument leave Erika a wounded, broken woman.The director, Michael Haneke, elicits finely tuned performances by all the players, particularly Huppert, who is magnificent in the title role. Haneke has made this film for adults only. It is dark and disturbing from beginning to end with moments of pain and violence that are as real as anything one is likely to see on the screen. Huppert as the piano teacher has no redeeming qualities we are able to see in the short space of time covered by the film. Viewers looking for a pleasant and agreeable entertainment are urged to search elsewhere. Haneke shows us a dark side of life and he is unflinching in its portrayal."
The audience is plunged into a very unsettling world
Linda Linguvic | New York City | 09/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In French, with English subtitles, this film is a risky psychological drama about a well-respected music professor at a prestigious Vienna music school. She's in her forties, wears no makeup, keeps her hair in a bun and dresses in the plainest of clothes. As a teacher, she is severe and demanding. She and her mother live together and their constant arguments include slaps and tears and reconciliation. Her secret life, however, includes pornography, voyeurism and genital self-mutilation. When an attractive young man starts to pursue her romantically, she shocks him with her perversions. How this all plays out is fascinating and the eventual conclusion is inevitable, but along the way the audience is plunged into this very unsettling world.Isabelle Huppert's performance as the teacher is absolutely magnificent. There are a lot of close-ups of her unsmiling freckled face and dark opaque emotionless eyes. There is a vague reference to her father being in an insane asylum; other than that there is no back-story to help us understand her. Benoit Magimel, cast as her young suitor, has a difficult role as well. During the course of the film, we watch him change before our eyes. All the other characters are also well cast and give outstanding performances.The director, Michael Haneke, kept the tension and erotic undercurrent strong throughout. There is a lot of classical music and scenes of recitals and piano lessons in a very rigid and upscale world. And then there are those scenes targeted to make the audience squirm in their seats. When all the elements are put together, the results are a film that will long haunt my memories.The Piano Teacher is not for everyone. But for those adventurous few who are willing to experience the different and dramatic, don't miss it."
It stays with you for days
J A Dunn | Philadelphia, PA USA | 03/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this film in Paris last October. Director, Michael Haneke has delivered an incredibly powerful film based on a controversial Austrian novel. Isabelle Huppert plays Erika, a brilliant piano professor at a college in Vienna. At work she is respected among her peers and indimidating to her students. At home, she lives with her tyrant mother (Annie Girardot). Erika and her mother have an emotionally abusive co-dependent relationship to the point where they share the same bedroom. Erika's sex life consists of eerie visits to porno shops and sadistic self-mutilation. When one of her students (Benoit Magimel) attempts to seduce her, she agrees but on HER terms. A family film this is not. There are some very disturbing scenes of emotional and physical abuse. But as difficult as the subject matter is, it does help the viewer to understand the psyche of a woman who has been denied happiness all her life. Isabelle Huppert is fantastic in a very difficult role. Her performance of the tortured Erika is the only time, I've seen a character so disturbed and cruel who I found pity in and wanted to see succeed. Forget the Oscar nominations, this is the best female performance of the year! Annie Girardot and Benoit Magimel are wonderful and very convincing in their roles as well. Lastly, the director, Michael Haneke. I've never seen any of his previous work but few directors have the ability to take complete control of my attention and keep it long after their film is over. Haneke is one of the very few who did. "La Pianiste" is a masterpiece, I recommend it to anyone who has an appreciation for European cinema."
The Struggle between Love and Seduction
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 11/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE PIANO TEACHER goes places most film makers dare not tread - the dark aspects of frustrated sexuality where desire and affection cannot meet. In brief, this is the story of the inner world of an exceptional pianist and piano teacher who lives with her mother in a 'marriage arrangement' that appears to satisfy both with its accompanying fights, jealousies, cheatings, and clingings. This cold pianist (incomparably portrayed by the fine Isabelle Huppert) is absorbed by Schubert and Schumann and shares many of those composers' tendencies towards madness and melancholy. Her private acting out of her sexual life includes forays into pornography video booths, drive-in movies for voyeurism, and other sadomasochistic practices that leave her frustrated in her drive to be humiliated and beaten. Into this sad woman's life enters a sensuously handsome student (again, played with complete credibility and finesse by Benoit Magimel) and much of the film is a hard driving match between lust/desire and need/repulsion, the true approach/avoidance conflict. The pace of the film is so correct for a story about the extended periods of ennui between moments of exhilharation that mirror the life inside a music academy. We are treated to some wonderful Schubert, Schumann, Schonberg, and Bach that serves as the 'dialogue' during extended scenes where the piano teacher listens with her eyes and ears and dsitorted mind, reacting to the music in equal parts with the performing students. Yes, this is a distrubing film, but it is not a grotesque film. Director Michael Haneke manages to place this surreal sexual tragedy for us to understand just how wide the bell curve of human sexuality stretches. An astonishingly fine film - if you are open to explore the dark interstices of the human mind without prejudice. An added feature of an interview on the DVD with Isabelle Huppert about the character she portrays is exceptionally apropos and well filmed."