The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher

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Michael Haneke’s latest torture mechanism is less funny game than daunting debasement ritual. Isabelle Huppert stars as Erika Kohut, an icy piano teacher who goes masochistic when handsome young Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel) wants to play with her cold ivory. Huppert responds to Haneke with such straight-faced precision that you might just buy into the director’s seemingly shallow provocations. Spousal punishment in Bergman’s Cries & Whispers came in the form of self-mutilation. Haneke, though, has Huppert paint a more squeamish picture of self-love that also contemplates the possibility of pleasure in pain. The director has an uncanny ability to force the spectator’s gaze and takes his time revealing Erika’s many fetishes. Though all-powerful in the classroom, Erika is slapped around by her busybody mother as if she were a constantly misbehaving child. Yes, there’s a reason for mom’s over-protectiveness (indeed, a grown woman who sleeps in the same bed with her mother couldn’t possibly be “all there”) though Haneke sometimes equates Erika’s sexual desires wholly childish. Still, Huppert brilliantly renders the character’s misguided sense of normalcy. In a way, Erika is not unlike a Breillat control freak. At a porno shop, she condemns a group of men for acknowledging her presence. Huppert’s gaze says it all: why can’t a woman find pleasure in such a place? Erika’s iron demeanor is inextricably bound to the precision of her ear for music. Haneke’s use of Schubert’s “Die Winterreise” is incredibly evocative and subtly portends the melting of Erika’s icy façade. There’s an overwhelming sense here that Huppert understands Erika more than Haneke. As a result, the film’s finale plays out like an uncompromising battle of intents. Haneke use of the long take is startling and aggressive and while he seems geared to punish Erika for her masochistic fantasies, Huppert defends the authenticity of the character’s desires. In essence, Haneke rapes while Huppert stoically resists.

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DVD
Distributor
Kino International
Runtime
130 min
Rating
NR
Year
2002
Director
Michael Haneke
Screenwriter
Michael Haneke
Cast
Isabelle Huppert, Benoit Magimel, Annie Girardot, Susanne Lothar, Udo Samel, Anna Sigalevitch, Cornelia Köndgen, Thomas Weinhappel