The Piano Teacher

the piano teacher posterNever has perversion been so shockingly real without going for cheap thrills or voyeurism. In this tale of painful love and frustration, Isabelle Huppert plays Erika, a loveless piano teacher who escapes her oppressive mom (Annie Girardot) and working routine by frequenting peepshows. When a student, Walter (Benoît Magimel), unexpectedly falls for her, she finally finds a way to materialize her ultimate fantasies.

While Erika’s vice is a way to escape her joyless life, it’s certainly her way to punish her mother for not letting her choose her own destiny. As we see countless untalented students sent to her class by their parents, we understand that is what might have happened to her that explains why she hates them—because of what they represent. Therefore when she deliberately harms one of her students by putting glass in her pocket, she just gives her a way out.

Her life, living with her mother is so stifling that she has a need for freedom in its most extreme incarnation, what she finds in perversion and masochism. It also allows her to bring shame on her mother, thus punishing her for suffocating her childhood and adult life.

Since she only knows love through her own experience with her mother—an obsessive and painful love/hate relationship—when Walter comes in, she can only love him back in her own way, caught between self-inflected pain and real feelings for him. The relationship turns into some odd triangle from which not one character will come out unharmed, Erika’s mum being of course jealous of Walter who, as a “normal” young man, will be harmed.

After realizing the craziness of the situation, Erika has no other way out than doing for herself what she did for her student. Since piano is her whole life, by turning her back to her career, she also kills herself.

While director Michael Haneke never takes advantage of the situation to show more than needed and manages to keep the film sober and under tight control, the film lives up to top-notch performances, and particularly to Isabelle Huppert’s tour-de-force. While the French actress’ reputation is already untouchable, she takes on the most difficult role of a career, some scenes being so graphic and psychologically repulsive that they will turn off the most mature audiences. With his blond candor, Benoît Magimel goes from bragging to innocent love and helpless victim before regaining control. Finally, Annie Girardot is a witch that you would never want as a mum.

Known for his disturbing narrative, Michael Haneke has crafted with a straightforward story-telling one of the most provoking films since Crash.

Director: Michael Haneke – Actors: Isabelle Huppert, Benoît Magimel – Running Time: 2:10 – Year: 2000 – Country: France, Austria

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.