The Piano Teacher
Directed by Michael Haneke
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Annie Girardot, BenoÃt Magimel
So many sexual fantasies are less fun than you plan. Besides the problem of convincing someone to say just the right dirty word at just the right time while wearing a burqua, positions are uncomfortable, equipment cold, and the clean up can take hours. Master piano teacher Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) has nothing BUT fantasy. At 40, she lives at home and still sleeps with mama (Annie Giradot) even though she has her own room. At work, she’s such a hard ass that no one will come near here, and her sex life revolves around peep shows and urinating publicly in drive-ins. Yeah, I never heard of that either, but hey, this is a French movie. One day she meets studly Walter Klemmer (BenoÃt Magimel) at a recital. He falls for her, and soon finds himself the object of her fantasy. He wants the regular, missionary with fellatio, but she prefers he follow a six-page, single-spaced, no margin instruction manual on exactly HOW she wants to be humiliated. “Weird…” he thinks, “but maybe it will be fun…” He breaks into her apartment and basically carries out the program, always politely asking if he’s hitting her hard enough and are the straps to tight? Well, being slapped silly isn’t as much fun as thinking about it, and there is blood to contend with, and when things don’t go as planned, Erika heads back to a life of Schubert and lonely self-mutilation.
Disturbing and dark, this is not what most people would consider an erotic movie. Erika has deep personal problems, and mother isn’t making things any better. Following her dictate that the student should never exceed the teacher, Erika sabotages her best student’s (Anna Sigalevitch’s) career at a recital with broken glass. =46ilmed in harsh and unflattering light, Erika never looks attractive or even sexual — just an automaton of an instructor who pushes everyone including herself to a pinnacle of single minded pianist passion. Klemmer is the opposite. He’s a good musician, an engineering student, and facile at what ever he turns his hand to. He readily masters Shoenberg and pops into Erika’s master’s class mostly because he wants to. Her attraction is her distance, and when she finally does succumb to his charms, it’s not a standard relation. Sex is brutal and sudden, painting her as a woman who wants to be beaten. The editing adds an edge of dread with it’s prolonged views of static scenes and frozen facial expression. It’s all about control — mom runs Erika, Erika runs her students, and one of her students takes the whip himself. She may achieve some sort of sexual satisfaction from the experience, but it never shows. And if you achieve a similar satisfaction, please don’t let us know — we have our own fantasies.