Piano Teacher, The

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/16/04 19:00:39

"A powerful, unsettling study of repression and psychosexual obsession."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2002: Never one to shy away from shockingly graphic, psychologically disturbing material, writer-director Michael Haneke (Funny Games) has done it again with La Pianiste, a stunning depiction of a woman hurdling down the road to self-destruction.

Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert, delivering a tour de force performance) is a 40-something professor at the Vienna Conservatory of Music. Living and even sleeping in the same bed with her emotionally abusive mother (Annie Girardot, a dead-ringer for the late Eileen Heckart), Erika is a woman who can only "feel" by inflicting pain on herself or others, cutting her own thighs with a razor, belittling her students to the point of tears, and shoving broken glass into the coat pocket of one of the pupils, causing the young girl permanent nerve damage and ending her ability to play the piano.

When not working with the students she secretly detests, or locked in battle with her oppressive mother, Erika spends her evenings away from home alone, sitting in a sex shop watching porn videos or peeping on couples at drive-in movies. Even more disturbing than a video we're shown, depicting an act of oral sex, is the sight of Erika making her gut-wrenching "human connection" of the experience.

Inevitably, Erika enters into a mutually destructive relationship with a student, Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel), a young man in his 20s, who is at first attracted and then repelled by the older woman's wildness. Both are superb as partners in a dance of sado-masochism and psychosis, each in turn the cruel one, each in turn the victim.

Unsettling and bleak, The Piano Teacher is still an absorbing and shattering study of powerlessness and frustration, certainly not a movie for the weak of heart but unforgettable for those with the courage to withstand the onslaught.

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