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Erika Kohut is a pianist, teaching music. Schubert and Schumann are her forte, but she's not quite at concert level. She's approaching middle age, living with her mother who is domineering then submissive; Erika is a victim then combative. With her students she is severe. She visits a sex shop to watch DVDs; she walks a drive-in theater to stare at couples having sex. Walter is a self-assured student with some musical talent; he auditions for her class and is forthright in his attraction to her. She responds coldly then demands he let her lead. Next she changes the game with a letter, inviting him into her fantasies. How will he respond; how does sex have power over our other faculties? Written by
If you think the movie is shocking, wait till you read the book!!
If you think piano teacher Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) in Michael Haneke's film "LA PIANISTE" is the ultimate degree in the personification of derangement, perversion and darkness, I've got news for you: the piano teacher in Elfriede Jellinek's novel "LA PIANISTE" (on which the film was based) is twice as "repulsive", "disgusting", "deranged" and even more fascinating -- though there can't be words enough to translate the level of artistic proficiency that Isabelle Huppert has reached here, above all other mortal actresses in activity today. And who else could have played this character with such emotional power, complete with the best piano playing/dubbing an actor could deliver?
In the novel as in the film, there are two big antagonists to the "heroine" Kohut: her own mother (wonderful, wreck-voiced Annie Girardot, in a part originally intended for Jeanne Moreau) and Austria itself. The mother personifies Jellinek's perception of her native Austria as a country that deceptively and perversely encourages racist/fascist (or at least authoritarian) behavior, sexual and emotional repression, and, let's say, übermensch ideals which are impossible to keep today without the danger of a mental breakdown.
"La Pianiste" also deals with a very powerful and delicate issue: how dangerous it is to reveal your innermost fantasies to the one (you think) you love. We tend to think our own sexual fantasies must be as exciting to others as they are to ourselves, which may turn out to be a huge, embarrassing and sometimes tragic mistake. Here, Kohut learns (?) the lesson in the most painful and humiliating of ways.
It must be mentioned that Elfriede Jellinek is one of the best-known and praised authors in Austria and Europe (well, now she's got a Nobel Prize!) and that autobiographical passages can be inferred in her novel, as she herself was a pianist and had a reportedly difficult relationship with her mother. The novel also includes long passages about Kohut's childhood and adolescence so you kind of understand how she turned into who she is now. Haneke chose to hide this information in the film, forcing us to wonder how she got to be that way (don't we all know a Erika Kohut out there?). But he very much preserves the fabric of the book in his film: unbearable honesty, to the point where most secretive, "horrendous" feelings painfully emerge -- envy, cruelty, violence, jealousy, hate, misery, sadism, masochism, selfishness, perversion etc. All of them unmistakably human.
I thought "La Pianiste" was a deeply moving film, very disturbing and thought-provoking, with a handful of unforgettable scenes, and that's just all I ask of movies. It also made me buy and be thrilled by the book, discover a fantastic author I hadn't read before, and listen again and again to Schubert - so, my thanks to Haneke, Jellinek and Isabelle!!! On the other hand, if you're looking for light entertainment, please stay away. My vote: 9 out of 10
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