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
The R-rated edition from Kino makes a number of changes and omissions, removing the shots of the hardcore peep booth footage viewed by Huppert's character in the mall, as well as optically pixellating pornographic images on magazine covers in the sex shop. In addition, this version completely removes the following two sequences:
-Huppert's cutting sequence in the bathtub
-Magimel taking Huppert to the ground and humping her at the hockey rink.
In the latter case, the film awkwardly fades out and in again in quick succession, to elide the missing footage. See more »
Schubert, indeed--the mind and libido over 88 keys
The Piano Teacher (2001)
This is a difficult movie. It's difficult to watch at times, if you take it seriously. But I think it was difficult to film, to write, to act.
The premise is subtle even if it sounds sensational--show the inner mind and inner life of a brilliant woman who is mentally ill. She has compulsive issues, I think, and sexual repression that has led her to masochistic and finally sadistic extremes. She is admirable in some external way for her self-control which reads, to an outsider, as cold precision, the kind needed to be an extraordinary classical pianist.
But the movie takes us inside her life, first to the unhealthy relationship with her mother, then the oddly stern and indifferent role she takes with her advanced students. Finally there is a young man who sees only her ability, and her external beauty. (This woman, Erika, is played by the incomparable Isabelle Huppert.) He is a pianist of unusual talent, but he wants not to concertize, but to live life. He plays hockey. He has friends. He smiles warmly. He is, in short, a healthy normal and rather handsome young man.
And he falls for Erika. This is where the movie gets weirder and weirder, but also more challenging. They play an intense game of sexual chicken, at first, and lots of head games. He knows she's superior to him in some way--older, more severe---but he has no idea about her slanted view of life and of sex. He wants her. He becomes a pupil of hers just for that reason. She pretends not to care, or to rebuff him (in part this isn't pretense because she's afraid). Finally a couple of serious and demented confrontations occur.
And things unravel in a very interesting way. Some people will find it simply sick and unwatchable. It also happens very slowly--if the film has an obvious flaw, it's the pace. It's in love with itself far too much. But if you get into that flow, and can take the pain that will rise up, then you will at least be greatly affected. That's more than most movies can say.
It's all quite in ernest. I don't think it's a bit campy or playing games with the viewer. It's really trying to get at this woman's psyche--and the young man's, since he gets in deeper than he intended. It's filmed with terrific planning and visual panache. And it makes some kind of deranged sense, too. In fact, there are probably more people in these kinds of situations than I'll even know, and to them I say give this a careful look.
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