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

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

Advertisement
The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

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.