Still living with her jealously selfish mother, piano teacher Erika Kohut's sexually repressed life spills over into voyeurism and self-mutilation. When a handsome young pupil shows an interest in her, it triggers a brutal and emotionally-charged series o
Few directors anywhere in th world are on quite as impressive a roll as Austrian maestro Michael Haneke. In 1997 he burst onto the wider international scene with Funny Games, a thriller which suberted slasher movie cliches by focusing on the victims rather than the killers. Earlier this year, UK audiences were treated to this brilliant cause-andeffect drama, Code Unknown. And, at almost the very same moment, Haneke was in Cannes with The Piano Teacher, securing the festival Grand Prix and top acting awards for Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel.
Haneke's masterstroke is that unlike other filmmakers innstanntly labelled 'challenging' because they dare to include violece or sexuaity in a subtitled movie, he refuses to shock just for the sake of it. That doesn't mean his work pulls its punches - The Piano Teacher will make you wince with is graphic shots of hardcore pornography and genital mutilation. But Haneke's aim is to leave the audience in a perpetually unsettled state, and therefore more open to questioning accepted cinema techniques, storylines and character behaviour.
French actress Isabelle Hupert is simply astonishing in the lead role. Frosty on the surface, festering with all manner of desires underneath, she turns Erika into a complex damaged but above all ambiguous human being. Likewise, the power of Haneke's films almost always comes from his refusal to provide easy explanations, forcing each viewer to make their own personal committment to the material.
Hence one reading od the film's teacher-pupil love affair: she, the professional eye for talen, has noted his potential for violene and uses her skill to bing it to the fore in order to fulfil her masochistic desires. She plays him ike a concerto, moving from pianissimo caresses to fortissimo body blows.
Emotionally devastating. Huppert delivers one of the standout performances of the year, while Haneke's courage once again leaves all of his peers standing.