The Piano Teacher

"Excellent"

The Piano Teacher Review


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.

This particularly striking opener ends with mother and daughter sharing a bedroom, increasing the already claustrophobic atmosphere with incredibly sparse writing. Through the simple routines of life such as this, Haneke explores murkiness behind uneducated, impulsive motivations. While Kohut secretly visits 25-cent porn machines to satisfy her confused, repressed libido, there's a sense that her compartmentalization can only last so long. If Kohut has been living like this her entire life, what will push her over the edge or set her aright? Considering the extremities of her life situation, only one of those polar results can occur, but Haneke keeps you guessing about any possibilities.

Into Kohut's superficially simple life struts a young, attractive, determined student, Walter (Benoit Magimel). Kohut is a prestigious piano teacher and player, and Walter tries using his natural talent to woo her attention. She slowly relents, but in such unpredictably unhealthy ways, you are left with pity for the pair as they continue to switch roles of pursuer and victim.

The consistently failing attempts to find a common ground between Kohut and Walter are compelling enough to keep you perpetually engaged in questioning what the next scene will reveal, and what will be the consequences. As intellectually enriching as it is, there are moments of overly blatant dialogue saved by impeccable performances from Magimel and Huppert.

The Piano Teacher also utilizes a stream of consciousness pacing that can drag on the attention span, but it's a practice that complements the various unspoken mental maneuverings spinning through Kohut's head. It isn't necessary to see all of her explorations and failures; the narrative would have been just as powerful with fewer scenes. Yet the actions Kohut pushes herself and the reluctant Walter towards never get redundant, so even repeated conversation takes on a new tone.

Beneath all the accidental, innocent, unfortunate manipulation is an underlying current of understanding that common sense and flawed emotion don't always mix. This acceptance allows for the most unfathomable tendencies you might laugh at someone for to have a realistic basis. The Piano Teacher lets nothing be easily solved for its characters... because nothing in life can be swallowed as whole as we'd normally assume.

This impressive film looks good on DVD, and a 20-minute interview with Huppert (in English) elaborates on some of its nuances. Recommended.

Aka La Pianiste.

Fun fact: The French keep pianos in the bathroom.



The Piano Teacher

Facts and Figures

Run time: 131 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 5th September 2001

Box Office USA: $0.7M

Budget: $4.1M

Distributed by: MK2 Diffusion

Production compaines: Arte, Bavaria Film International, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), Canal+, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 59 Rotten: 22

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Erika Kohut, as Mutter, as Walter Klemmer, as Mrs. Schober, as Dr. Blonskij, as Anna Schober, Cornelia Köndgen as Mme Blonskij, Thomas Weinhappel as Baritone, Georg Friedrich as Man in drive-in, Philipp Heiss as Naprawnik, William Mang as Teacher, Rudolf Melichar as Director, Michael Schottenberg as Teacher, Gabriele Schuchter as Margot, Dieter Berner as Singing teacher

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Captain America: Civil War Movie Review

Captain America: Civil War Movie Review

After the formulaic thrills of The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, Marvel's Avengers were...

Son of Saul Movie Review

Son of Saul Movie Review

From Hungary, this year's Oscar-winning foreign film is a remarkably fresh take on the Holocaust...

Demolition Movie Review

Demolition Movie Review

With its darkly emotive themes and brittle humour, this well-made drama by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas...

Bastille Day Movie Review

Bastille Day Movie Review

An attempt to muscle in on Luc Besson's Taken-style of thriller, this is an odd...

Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later Movie Review

Secret Cinema Presents: 28 Days Later Movie Review

Expectations are a problem with this year's Secret Cinema event. After the jaw-dropping, goosebump-inducing surprises...

Jane Got a Gun Movie Review

Jane Got a Gun Movie Review

With its grindingly low-key tension and unusual perspectives, this Western has a chance to revamp...

Criminal Movie Review

Criminal Movie Review

Almost criminally entertaining, this preposterous thriller mixes buckets of humour and emotion into the violent,...

Advertisement
The Jungle Book Movie Review

The Jungle Book Movie Review

Using remarkably photorealistic animation, this remake of the 1967 Disney classic is warm and enjoyable,...

Eye in the Sky Movie Review

Eye in the Sky Movie Review

Almost forensic in its approach, this smart thriller explores a drone strike from a variety...

Midnight Special Movie Review

Midnight Special Movie Review

Gifted director Jeff Nichols takes on another genre in his fourth film with actor Michael...

Boulevard Movie Review

Boulevard Movie Review

This dark, introspective drama hinges on one of Robin Williams' final film performances before his...

The Huntsman: Winter's War Movie Review

The Huntsman: Winter's War Movie Review

Aside from success at the box office, there was nothing about 2012's rather uneven fantasy...

Black Mountain Poets Movie Review

Black Mountain Poets Movie Review

It's fairly obvious that the cast and crew began making this film with only the...

Victoria Movie Review

Victoria Movie Review

One of the most breathtaking films of the year, this ambitious story shifts from a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.