Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
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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
A great film it may be, but mainstream viewing it is not.
In the first twenty minutes we are swept away by several powerfully portrayed emotions: a suffocating and overbearing mother has a violent argument with her live-in 40yr old daughter; a piano teacher (and professor of music)'s love for her pupils expressed in unswerving critical appraisal; the joy that music can inspire both in the listener and the performer. Within this short space of time our senses have been assaulted convincingly with very real characters. We are also swept away by powerfully performed music and shown the difference between great and mediocre performance with a lot of attention to nuance. Such material alone would have been the basis for an outstanding film of widespread appeal. But the trend in French cinema being what it is, it goes deeper, exploring the repressed sexuality of the teacher, the expression of sexual freedom and subsequent breakdown within a context of passionate attraction, and the inevitable cycle of real abuse. We are drawn to her suffering and, at least initially, wonder how much suffering may be related to the accomplishment of genius, particularly in the composers she admires. The Piano Teacher contains graphic dialogue and depictions of sex and brutality in scenes that some people might rather not watch. The scenes are essential to the dilemmas which the film seeks to raise and so can hardly be called gratuitous. A great film it may be, but mainstream viewing it is not.
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