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:: The Piano Teacher

Michael Haneke’s film, “Funny Games” screened at MIFF in 1997, a confronting and uncomfortable exploration of screen violence, the complete antithesis of the comic strip violence of most Hollywood films. It manipulated you, made you see you were being manipulated, then made you examine why you wanted, as an audience, to be manipulated. “The Piano Teacher”, screened at MIFF 2001, is a more complicated yet no less confronting and disturbing film. Whereas in “Funny Games” the characters were ciphers, in “The Piano Teacher” we are taken into the world of Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) and we are not let out, no matter how much we might want to, practically scream to. Erika is a piano teacher at a prestigious conservatory and a brilliant pianist in her own right. She lives with her dominating, jealous mother; sharing the same bed at night, in a claustrophobic love hate relationship, whilst her father is dying in a mental hospital. Erika walks a tightrope between her two lives, the proper, cultured musician and her other side, the woman who watches porn in booths, peeps on couples in drive-ins and mercilessly mutilates herself. When a brash, handsome young man pursues her Erika wants to bring him into her sadomasochistic world, but the delicate balance of her life is upset and Erika is driven over the edge.

The images from this film refuse to be banished from the mind long after the film has finished. Isabelle Huppert is magnificent as Erika, deservedly winner the Grand Jury Prize for Best Actress at Cannes 2001. She makes sympathetic a woman who is capable of ruining a student’s career out of romantic jealousy, a woman desperate for love but totally incapable of giving or receiving it. Haneke’s direction is unflinching yet unexploitative with material that in other hands could have been turned into bad porn. The moments of humour in the film are a brilliant relief from the dread and discomfort.

This film does not at any time let the audience off the hook. Erika is not a nice woman underneath who is reformed by true love; neither is her lover a pure and innocent soul. There is no happy ending and no false note of hope. If you want to see a woman whose loneliness isn’t as cute as “Bridget Jones”, then don’t miss “The Piano Teacher”.

Screening at the Lumiere Cinemas