THE PIANO TEACHER

This is not an easy film to sit through–it’s a haunting, draining assault on our emotions as it tells a very grim story. Erika Kohut (Huppert) is a top piano teacher at the Vienna Conservatory, highly desired by students for her exacting methods. On the outside she is professional and sharp, but the film slowly unveils her inner demons: regret at never becoming the star pianist her mother (Giradot) always wanted her to be. She still lives with mother, and their relationship is still disturbing, to say the least. And her ambitions have repressed her femininity so much that she’s addicted to porn and fantasizes about sadistic sex. Then a handsome young student (Magimel) starts pursuing a relationship with her, not realising the can of worms he’s about to open!
Haneke is a fine filmmaker, and he handles the material here brilliantly–this is a stunningly effective film. But it’s also so relentlessly gruesome on a psychological level that it leaves the audience shaken and stupefied. Once again, Huppert finds the perfect role for her inexpressive acting style–we never feel any sympathy for her, even when things get gruesome. And this is the biggest problem with the film. We almost feel Erika deserves everything she gets (or inflicts on herself), even though she’s quite obviously mentally unstable. And as the film progresses, it somehow manages to get both cruelly gripping and dully repetitive at the same time. In the end it’s just far too unstinting in its unpleasantness, leaving us feeling filthy and assaulted by what we’ve seen. And for little discernable reason, other than the fact that the filmmaker is powerful enough to do this to us.

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