Piano Teacher, The

Director: Michael Haneke

Perhaps the most challenging of contemporary European filmmakers, the Austrian director Michael Haneke has been receiving much more attention since his recent move into French-language production, which began with the superb Code Unknown. The Piano Teacher is also French, but in many respects it harks back to Haneke’s more confrontational Austrian films such as the much misunderstood Funny Games. The central figure, Erika Khout (Isabelle Huppert), is a teacher at the Vienna Conservatory. Now in her late thirties and living a hermetic, love-hate existence with a tyrannical mother (Annie Giradot), Erika’s sex life has been reduced to voyeurism and masochistic diversions. Educated to be an artist in an atmosphere of the strictest discipline, she can only derive pleasure from suffering and punishment, which she seeks to dictate to a young student with whom she starts an affair. Haneke’s targets are not only the role pornography plays in modern life but also the terrible repression that can be engendered by a misplaced devotion to high-art values as represented by some beautiful classical music. Despite the visceral impact of many of its scenes, the film is ultimately as compassionate as it is intelligent and courageous.
France-Austria, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 130 mins.

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