Older innocence collides with youthful wisdom in this slow-moving but consistently impressive and unsettling look at spinsterhood. A startlingly bland-featured Isabelle Huppert stars as the title role, a woman so tied to her obsessive mother that she has grown up with unnaturally hindered emotional reactions.

At just over two hours long, one might assume that the inner turmoil would take exhausting eye strain to build, but writer/director Michael Haneke (from a novel by Elfriede Jelinek) craftily structures a detailed, deeply disturbing environment in the first five minutes. As Professor Kohut (Huppert) comes home late one night, her mother (Annie Girardot) violently searches her purse to gain some intelligence about what she's up to. A middle-aged woman forced to answer to a parent is enough, but Haneke takes this dysfunction a step further by concentrating on physical interaction. It's far more powerful to see these two women smacking each other than giving one another the stereotypical guilt-ridden lectures other family dramas often fall back on.

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