Review: La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher, 2001)

the piano teacher

So that’s what was going on with my sophomore math teacher and the captain of the soccer team!

Written By: Michael Haneke
Directed By: Michael Haneke

Thinking about La Pianiste for some time I’ve come to the conclusion that if Michael Haneke did his job then a lot of people came away from the film thinking that Erika Kohut was a sick and twisted individual. Why is she sick and twisted, because she presents something different from the codified and safe world most people want to inhabit. She is far from the norm, and presented with her raw honesty the norm has no choice but to rebel and eventually go mad because of her candidness. After all, the norm likes to lie to itself, those in the norm are very fond of thinking they are right for no other reason than that they are the norm. Erika isn’t the norm, she is everything the norm is against because she no longer wants to lie to herself. But, the norm can’t have someone being honest with themselves and freely being different. Such a thing simply isn’t allowed in a plane of existence where the norm is the majority and anything outside of the norm is wrong.

I have no doubt that those with an open mind liked La Pianiste, or at the very least disliked the film for reasons not related to the sexual politics of the films main character. For, it takes a very open mind to appreciate Herr Haneke, and the most open of minds to welcome a character like Erika into one’s life. We see that the character of Walter Klemmer is not open, no matter how much he thinks he is being open. Similar to Erika he wants everything on his terms, even when he is faced with someone he actually wants. He is scared to death by what Erika represents, as her sexual honesty is akin to a foreign language when put up against the sexual games he is used to playing. Erika also scares her mother, because her mother is all about power and control while Erika wants to patrol the area in between control and letting go. At every turn Erika finds someone who can never hope to understand her, whether it be as a professional, a lover, a daughter, or a human being.

Isabelle Huppert gives a tremendous performance as the repressed and imprisoned Erika. She portrays Erika as outwardly cold, but beneath the cold visage there are warm eyes that only want to be loved. When Erika’s love is turned away the pain is obvious on Mademoiselle Huppert’s face. She is equal parts the caged animal and the wounded soul. She wants to punish herself in more than a sexual sense. In Erika’s life sex is part a part of a greater whole. She isn’t controlled by the type of sex she wishes to engage in, rather she is controlled by the relationships she forms. It speaks to the nuanced performance from Mademoiselle Huppert that she gets across how much there is to Erika in such a succinct fashion.

The further I get into the filmography of Herr Haneke the more I respect him as a filmmaker. He does have a dire outlook on humanity, but truth be told I share his outlook. I find that the films of his I have seen, and La Pianiste is no exception, take a cold approach to mask the warmth that is underneath. In La Pianiste Herr Haneke allows the movie to operate around his lead actress because that will melt away the frostiness that is on the surface of his film. It may shock some, but at the very least people should come away from La Pianiste with a lot to think about.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher, 2001)

  1. Great review here. I go back and forth on this, but I think The Piano Teacher might be Haneke’s most dire (good word, by the way) film yet. Tough call, but man, he really pushed it in this film.

    Glad you’re digging Haneke’s films. He’s one of my all time favorite directors.

  2. So far I’ve really liked every Haneke film I’ve seen (The Piano Teacher, Cache, and the original Funny Games). He’s definitely a great director, and one who keeps rising in my rankings with every movie of his I see.

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