The Piano Teacher The Criterion Collection
Special Edition, Criterion Collection
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Academy Award winning Austrian director Michael Haneke shifted his focus from the social to the psychological for this riveting study of female sexuality and the dynamics of control, an adaptation of a controversial 1983 novel by Elfriede Jelinek. Haneke finds his match in Isabelle Huppert, who delivers an icy but quietly seething performance as Erika, a middle-aged piano professor at a Viennese conservatory who lives with her mother, in a claustrophobically codependent relationship. Severely repressed, she satisfies her masochistic urges only voyeuristically until she meets Walter (Benoit Magimel), a young student whose desire for Erika leads to a destructive infatuation that upsets the careful equilibrium of her life. A critical breakthrough for Haneke, The Piano Teacher which won the Grand Prix as well as dual acting awards for its stars at Cannes is a formalist masterwork that remains a shocking sensation.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- New, restored 2K digital transfer, supervised by director Michael Haneke, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack
- New interview with Haneke
- New interview with actor Isabelle Huppert
- Selected-scene commentary from 2002 featuring Huppert
- Behind-the-scenes footage of a postsync session for the film featuring Haneke and Huppert
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: An essay by scholar Moira Weigel
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She makes him do certain things and will deny his affections. Then when he does what she supposedly wanted him to do which was disturbing in itself, she is still just sitting there with no emotion at all. This woman was definitely mentally ill and i tried to understand her character but there wasnt really enough information. I dont want to give away the ending but the whole movie is a downer. I didnt understand what happened at the end or what became of her but i have to say this, this is probably the saddest portrayal of anyone ive ever seen on film. I still cant tell what exactly made her that way. Is she a sociopath? Was she abused at some point? Its a slow moving film but effective.
I still can't stop thinking about this film, however I don't think that I could recommend it, either. Watch if you must.
Along comes talented, charming, handsome young Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel) who is attracted to her because of her passion and her intensity. He wants to become her student so as to be close to her. She rejects him out of hand, but because of his talent the Vienna conservatory votes him in. He falls in love with her. Again she pushes him away, but he will not take no for an answer, and thereby begins his own descent into depravity and loss of self-respect.
The question the viewer might ask at this point is, who is in control? The sadist or the masochist? Indeed who is the sadist and who the masochist? It is hard to tell. Is it the person who has just been greatly abused both psychologically and physically, who is actually lying wounded on the floor in grotesque triumphant and fulfillment, or is it the person who is rushing out the door, sated, giving the order that no one is to know what happened.
But Erika is not just a sadomasochistic freak. She is a sex extreme freak. She wants to experience the extremes of human sexuality while maintaining the facade of respectability. Actually that isn't even true. She says she doesn't care what others think. She doesn't care if they walk in and find her bleeding on the floor because she is in love. Love, she calls it. For her sex and love are one and the same.
At one point Walter tells her that love isn't everything. How ironic such a superfluity is to her. How gratuitous the comment.
The movie is beautifully cut and masterfully directed by Michael Haneke who spins the tale with expert camera work and carefully constructed sets in which the essence of the action is not just clear but exemplified (as in the bathroom when Walter propels himself high above the top of the stall to find Erika within). He also employs a fine positioning of the players so that they are always where they should be with well timed cuts from one angle to another. This is particularly important in the scene in which Erika, like a blood-drained corpse caught in stark white and black light, lies under her lover, rigid as stone. Here for the most part we only see her face and the stark outline of her neck with its pulsating artery. We don't need to see any more.
The part of Erika Kohut is perfect for Isabelle Huppert who is not afraid of extremes; indeed she excels in them. I have seen her in a number of movies and what she does better than almost anyone is become the character body and soul. Like the woman she plays in this movie she is unafraid of what others may think and cares little about her appearance in a decorative sense. What matters to her is the performance and the challenge. No part is too demanding. No character too depraved. It's as if Huppert wants to experience all of humanity, and wants us to watch her as she does. She is always fascinating and nearly flawless. She is not merely a leading light of the French cinema; she is one of the great actresses of our time who has put together an amazingly diverse body of work.
I think it is highly instructive and affords us a wonderful and striking contrast to compare her performance here with her performance in The Lacemaker (La Dentellière) from 1977 when she was 22 years old. There she was apple sweet in her red hair and freckles and her pretty face and her cute little figure playing Pomme, a Parisian apprentice hairdresser. Her character was shy about sex and modest--just an ordinary French girl who hoped one day to be a beautician. Here she is a self-destructive witch, bitter with hateful knowledge of herself, shameless and entirely depraved.
Huppert is fortunate in being an actress in France where there are parts like this for women past the age of starlets. (Hollywood could never make a movie like this.) In the American cinema, only a handful of the very best and hardest working actresses can hope to have a career after the age of about thirty. Huppert greatly increases her exposure because of her ability and range, but also because she is willing to play unsympathetic roles, here and also in La Cérémonie (1995) in which she plays a vile, spiteful murderess.
Do see this for Isabelle Huppert. You won't forget her or the character she brings to life.