Renowned Russian piano teacher Irina Sousatzka gets a new student - Bengali piano prodigy Manek. They are both immigrants in the UK and bond quickly. When Manek's single mother's business fails, he must make a career decision.
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Bengali Sushila Sen and her son, Manek, relocate from India to London after Sushila's relationship with her husband fails. Sushila struggles with everyday living. A child piano prodigy, Manek's schoolteacher refers him to a piano teacher, Irina Sousatzka, a Russian immigrant renowned for her teaching skills. Irina forms a strong bond with Manek, not only teaching him piano but also valuable life lessons. Disagreements arise, as Manek does not want anyone to run his life for him, but nevertheless the training progresses. Sushila, a baker and seller of Indian cuisine, loses an important client after her hair is found in one of her baked goods. To help his mother, Manek feels pressure to use his piano skills to earn some money. This is against Irina's wishes, however, as she is trying to protect Manek from her own negative experiences as a young concert pianist. She believes no student should perform until they are ready. But Manek, encouraged by a pushy music agent, decides to perform ... Written by
Madame Sousatzka is overall a well-made and enjoyable film which gives the audience an interesting glimpse into the world of piano music. The film is mainly about music, and as expected, the music is an integral part of it, and it is beautiful. Just like a film of this sort would require, Madame Sousatzka has a very good score which contributes to its musical and dramatic tone, and also a serene, subtle narrative style which complements the story, the characters and the overall atmosphere. The biggest triumph of the writers, however, is the main character of piano teacher Madame Sousatzka, which is memorable. The film tells her story by mainly focusing on the lessons she gives to the young son of an Indian immigrant, and there we see who she is. She is strict, demanding, uncompromising, but she is also loving, caring and kind.
All of it is handled perfectly by one of my favourite actresses, Shirley MacLaine. This is her show all the way, and she is excellent in a heartbreaking and unforgettable performance. She skillfully creates a tough yet vulnerable persona and plays Sousatzka's strength, inner pain, and her struggle with her lonely present and her twisted past with great conviction. We know everything about this faded but assertive lady, one that we can meet everyday in our neighbourhood, just because of this portrayal. Her facial expressions are amazing, and throughout the film they really enhance the impact she makes here. This colourful character lets her be imperious, motherly, humorous, funny, unlikable, moving and sympathetic throughout it, and in some instances, she can be all of the above at the same time. A great, great performance.
MacLaine is supported by several good actors giving good support. Another favourite of mine, Shabana Azmi, is very good in a much smaller part as the loving but greedy Bengali mom. Her Bengali accent and mannerisms (which most non-Indians would never really take notice of) are spot on, and she comes across as a lively and vivacious character. Navin Chowdhry is pretty good as the student. The film is quiet and even though it is a bit slow in pace, it is entertaining and makes for an interesting watch. Obviously for me, it is MacLaine's performance which makes it so recommendable. Madame Sousatzka is not the greatest movie you will see, it is definitely not a film that would be enjoyed by everyone, and even though I personally had bigger expectations from it, it is overall a fine, artistic and well-made picture.
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