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"A revolting and shocking work devoid of redemption and purpose."
"Shock for the sake of shock is not commendable in my book."
"And just when you think things cannot get any more repulsive, they do."
The Piano Teacher  

Cast

Erika Kohut: Isabelle Huppert
The Mother: Annie Girardot
Walter Klemmer: Benoit Magimel
Mrs. Schober: Susanne Lothar
Dr. Blonskij: Udo Samel
Anna Schober: Anna Sigalevitch
Mme Blonskij: Cornelia Kondgen
Baritone: Thomas Weinhappel
Review July 2002

Despite the accolades earned at last year's Cannes Film Festival and withstanding the widespread critical acclaim, I find "The Piano Teacher" to be a revolting and shocking work devoid of redemption and purpose. Directed by Michael Haneke, "The Piano Teacher" explores the life of Erika Kohut, a piano instructor by day and sadomasochist by night.

On the surface, Professor Kohut is a stern, dictatorial piano instructor at the Vienna Conservatory. She represents the cr?me de la cr?me of pianists, teaching only the shining stars and performing only for the connoisseurs. But underneath is a different story. Underneath, she is a sexually repressed and abusive or abused woman.

Much like her favorite composer, Robert Schumann, who bordered between genius and madness, Erika also flirts in and out of both spectrums. Perhaps it is her intention to mimic Schumann. For, one moment we see her playing at a private recital and the next, we see her cutting her private parts in a bathtub. Following her piano lessons, she makes frequent stops at an adult book store to watch videos, she plays the role of voyeur at a drive in movie theater watching couples have sex in their cars, and she maliciously destroys the careers of those in her way.

When not tending to the above, she goes on to play mind games with a sexually charged student named Walter Klemmer. Klemmer is a much younger pianist than Erika and becomes infatuated with her after first laying eyes on her. Initially, he believes that her standoffishness is simply a tactic of hard to get, where both struggle to maintain power over the relationship. For instance, at a recital, Walter ignores Erika and pays more attention to a young pianist with stage fright. Then, in a sexual encounter in the Conservatory's bathroom, Erika teases Walter, yet leaves him unsatisfied.

This cat and mouse game continues throughout the majority of the film. And after a considerable amount of chasing and taunting, Erika discloses her most intimate sadomasochistic wishes to Walter. Immediately, Walter thinks such thoughts are a joke. And when he realizes that she is being serious, he rejects her and her impure thoughts. Once ousted, Erika becomes distraught and tries to win him back. She surrenders to him and vows to change her ways. But is it too late? Can she really change? The ending may shock you even more.

Many critics have applauded this film for its bold subject matter and its understated performances. In fact, Cannes most recently awarded Isabelle Huppert for best actress for her role in this film. (It also nabbed best picture and best actor). But from my perspective, for this picture to earn such high praise is the most shocking of all. No doubt, it is a risky film to make and the actors should be applauded for attempting such outrageous material. However, shock for the sake of shock is not commendable in my book.

To me, great films are thought provoking, entertaining, and rewarding. They also have a point or some sort of direction. But this film displays none of the above characteristics. While it does succeed in depicting a hideous and perverted persona, it does not reward the viewer with a hint of redemption. It does not entertain nor does it take us to an enlightened state. There is no ultimate purpose and there is no rhyme or reason behind the despicable details.

Most specifically, the camera focuses on Huppert for long periods, oftentimes without a spoken word, to convey the expressions of her innermost thoughts. She is the supposed protagonist in this story, but after getting to know her character, you realize that you really don't want to know her innermost thoughts. You keep thinking that she will skip over her sadistic wishes of pain and violence, but she does not. And just when you think things cannot get any more repulsive, they do.

Without a doubt, this is one of the most numbingly grotesque films of the year. And, if you are brave enough to sit through the torturous 2 hours and 10 minutes, maybe you too should have your very own Cannes Film Festival Award!



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