The Piano Teacher

Dir: Michael Haneke
2001
Similar in effect to Almodovar’s “Talk to Her,”
this French film based on a German novel comes at us like a dangerous, erotic love story, while actually delivering a scary study in creeping insanity. We’re too busy slotting the characters into their genre-determined space that we don’t notice what’s actually going on (and in this way we mirror the experience of the young man who falls in lust with the title character, Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert.
However, that Erika is slightly off her nut is shown in the first scene, where, returning home late to the flat she shares with her mother, she is berated for being a wanton libertine until violence ensues and she beats up mom a bit. Yikes. I’ll wait in the hall, thanks.
As other critics have noted, we enter the film after the breakdown has happened. We’re just around to watch the unraveling. Her cocky, assured, but talented student Walter (Benot Magimel), doesn’t know this–he just sees the repressed wild thang hiding behind the librarian outfit. When they finally explode together halfway through the film, its a desperate display of control and masochism. This, also, has been proceeded by a subtly filmed piece of psychotic violence, as a very jealous Erika makes sure a young pianist (in her mind, her rival) doesn’t play for a whole year. I’ll let you find out how that happens.
Well, the film goes on from there, culminating in a series of unpleasant sex scenes that show just how far apart are the goals of these supposed lovers. It’s not a film that you’d love to watch over and over again, but it is smart, brave, completely nuts, and features a wangdoodle of a performance by Huppert, who goes places many actresses would not. There was also a part of me that found the whole thing amusing, in a “sexual futility is funny” sort of way. But that’s just me.
The American DVD has been cut, though I’m not too sure where. There’s a strange fade/edit during the locker-room blowjob scene, and my friend Jon mentioned a disturbing self-abuse scene that was not on my copy. So shame on whoever released this DVD for being wimpy.

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