Film and TV

‘The Piano Teacher’ (‘La Pianiste’) (2001)

I have just finished watching a French-Austrian thriller, ‘The Piano Teacher’ (known as ‘La Pianiste in French). I had been wanting to see this film for a while, and after finally getting the DVD for Christmas, decided to give it a go this evening.

‘The Piano Teacher’ is a psycho-sexual thriller about Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), a repressed piano teacher at the Vienna Conservatoire who is constantly under the thumb of her overbearing and somewhat tyrannical mother (Annie Girardot), whom she lives with, despite being in her late 30s/early 40s. Her sexual repression is manifested in a variety of fetishes, such as sadomasochism, self-mutilation of her own genitals and voyeurism. When she falls for one of her students (Benoît Magimel), she tries to control him (much like how she is controlled by her mother) and convince him to indulge in these (often violent) fetishes. However, he is disgusted and slowly turns against her. The film eventually reaches a climax with a series of dramatic and violent events which threaten to destroy Erika’s life.

Huppert is absolutely fantastic in the role of Erika, no doubt the reason that in 2001, the year of the film’s release, she won awards for “Best Actress” at both Cannes and the European Film Awards. Her performance ensures that you really feel Erika’s pain as she is slowly spurned by those around her.

There are two main words I would use to describe ‘The Piano Teacher’: bleak and intense. With its graphic sexual content and violence, I wouldn’t recommend it for those who are faint of heart. However, there is something beautiful about the cinematography, so despite the grim themes, the film as a whole is absolutely gripping. One aspect of the cinematography I found fascinating was the lack of soundtrack. Obviously as a film set around a conservatoire, there are scenes with concerts and music lessons, but otherwise, there is no music. This really helped built the tension, especially at the end, when the film suddenly cuts to black, silent credits. I was really left wondering what happened next, as without music, there was no indication of whether Erika was headed for a happiness or tragedy. It really goes to show that music really can affect your perception of the plot.

I enjoyed ‘The Piano Teacher’ very much, although because it was very dark, I can’t see me re-watching it any time soon.

My overall rating? 7.5/10.

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