97. The Piano Teacher (2001, Michael Haneke, Germany)
"The Piano Teacher” sees Isabelle Huppert play Erika Kohut, an able musician who works at a prestigious school. However, when she meets Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel), her world gets flipped upside down. The sadomasochistic sexual fantasies that have, up until now, remained in her private life, spill over into her public one, all leading up to a shocking and incredible finale. It's a film about desire, love, subversive sexual fantasies, and repression. Haneke intelligently flits between these themes, confidently tackling each and every one of them in equal measures. His musings on subversive sexuality are brilliant, discuss whether fantasies can actually match up to the reality, and the social taboos that remain sturdily in place. The most impressive – and heart-breaking, actually – scene in the film is the one when Huppert's Erika finally divulges her innermost fantasies to a smitten Walter. Not only is it a strong moment for the character, where all of her pent up frustration is poured out to an unwilling listener, but it's also the moment where Haneke's musings on social taboos come into play. Sure, Erika has passed a 'boundary' as far as social conventions go, but isn't she entitled to these strange and unrequited pleasures? Walter's reaction is probably what you would expect from one of society's 'normal' people, but it's still utterly shattering to see a woman who has kept these desires repressed for so many years be shunned when she finally lets all out.
At the heart of it is a sublime performance from Isabelle Huppert, who plays a repressed middle aged woman who hasn't had the experience to match her bizarre passions. She's fascinated by the sexual tastes – and indeed weaknesses – of men, and she travels around our screen like a woman possessed by the idea of sexual subversion. The film also looks the business, with some gorgeous cinematography that gives the film a stylish, lavish feel that starkly contradicts the severely brutal images on-screen. Christian Berger's camera peaks around corners and watches from behind windows, capturing the voyeuristic spirit of its lead character and amplifying the eerie, encroaching feelings of self-denial and paranoia. Even more shocking, though, is when Haneke simply places his camera in a room with the protagonists, refusing to move, refusing to compromise. Not only does it amplify the severity and the brutality of proceedings, but it also makes the viewer feel extremely uncomfortable. It's as if we are watching a real couple (and they do feel real, which is probably down to the performances), and that they are oblivious to our presence. Both shooting techniques feel equally as voyeuristic, and as a result "The Piano Teacher” is a starkly unsettling experience.