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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Frank D. Gilroy
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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
Shirley MacLaine won a Golden Globe for Best Actress (Drama) for her performance, but failed to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award. As of 2004, this is the only time the Golden Globe Best Actress winner was not even nominated for the Oscar. See more »
Madame Sousatzka is one of those coming of age to win the big competition films; albeit, the kid doesn't come of age (that will be his next step) and there is no competition. And the lovable, eccentric coach is the maddening, overbearing piano teacher, Madame Sousatzka.
Sushila and Manek Sen, an immigrant Indian family, moves to London. Sushila, the mother, supports her son, Manek, by cooking pastries for an upscale department store out of her cramped kitchen. Manek is a raw child prodigy of the piano. For years, Sushila has been funding Manek's studies by selling off her family heirlooms.
They hook up with Madame Sousatzka, one of the top piano teachers in London. She has issues, however. She smothers her students. She has an "art for art's sake" philosophy, and she doesn't believe that her students should seek commerce for their skills. And she tries to hide her students from the world. Through flashbacks, she relives her failed career through her students.
I just finished watching this film for the second time--the first since 1988. It holds up really well. Shirley MacLaine, who plays the title role, gives one of her best performances. She is neither showy nor mannered, in a role that was too easy to devolve into both. Navin Chowdhry (Manek) seems like a natural at the piano. His part calls for him to be cocky and nervous, all at the same time. And he does it quite well. And the supporting roles from Twiggey to Peggy Ashcroft seem to hit the right chords.
There is a lot of great music in it. And the direction and the pace of the film are swift. I think if the film would have spent too much time talking about music, I would've been bored. As it is directed, I was captured by all the pieces played.
Finally, I couldn't help but notice that Ruth Praweer Jhabvala adapted this piece. (I, in fact, researched this film to find out who wrote it.) It's the work between A Room with a View and Howard's End. It really shows off her style of writing. There is this great sense of time and space of modern day London here, as there was in early twentieth century London in Howard's End. And dangerous intimacies seem to be a subject she likes tackling in all three films.
Overall, Madame Sousatzka is well worth the two hours.
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