LA PIANISTE, Michael Haneke (2001)


The dichotomy about Michael Haneke forced me to watch La Pianiste again. I usually participate on forums of music, where obviously cinema is also a very often subject to discuss about, and few time ago I started to read excellent reviews on this film and on Haneke’s work in general. On the other hand, his latest Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) gained the blessing of the critics, also won many awards, but people were totally divided into whether it was a masterpiece or just crap.

Before La Pianiste I had seen Funny Games in its two versions and was really shocking, although in my opinion, incomplete. I might be a bit stupid but sometimes I prefer being told the reasons and motivations rather than figure them out myself, it’s not a matter of lack of imagination, I can assure you fantasy is widely developed in my head.

First time I watched it, few years ago already, the only references I got were those related to self mutilation and how insane the main character was, so once you’ve been warned, seems that you’re expecting those tough scenes to come, as if you were on alert. I didn’t like that, and thought the movie was too much freak, and twisted, just to shock audience and get an immediate response.

Having said all that, I decided to review La Pianiste, completely isolated, to get any possibly interesting detail, trying to forget any picture I could have kept from the first view. To tell you the truth, I erased most of my memories, which helped a lot to concentrate on the story.

Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) is a piano teacher in her forties at the Conservatory in Vienna. She’s straight, very strict and tremendously cold, does not show any emotion however her only noticeable weakest point is being sensitive to Schubert and Schumann. However, she hides two more sides of her personal life.

On one hand, the insane relationship she’s got with her oppressive and overprotecting mother (Annie Girardot), a woman with subtle drinking issues, always checking what her daughter does, where she is…Not only they live together, but also sleep together. Tension between them is constant, and episodes of both love and hate alternate on a daily basis.

On the other hand, there’s a dark part Erika keeps hidden from everyone. So much repression, self-control in front of the others, loneliness and insecurity have turn her into a sexual pervert, with a special taste into the filthiest and most sordid aspects, she doesn’t know about love or being loved, she just knows about submission and pain. In case she realizes she’s overcome with some sort of emotion, she will quickly self-punish deliberately. Terrible and disgusting.

Erika can control herself and deal with her mother, but she cannot control the rest of the world. The intrusion of the young and gorgeous  Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel) will be the proof.

Walter has a serious crash on the teacher from the very first moment at a private concert at  his aunt’s. He will try to approach her by any means, no matter her mother is watching and interrupting all the time, and despite Erika’s rejecting attitude, he will impress her by playing some Schubert on the piano.

From this moment, he will try to access to the Conservatory just to become her pupil and get closer. He just wants to conquer her and see what’s inside her. And eventually she’ll give up to his charms and insistence, with the condition he accepts the rules detailed in a letter. Will Walter be able to assume what kind of person Erika really is? Will he be able to adapt to her particular vision of love?

Performances are outstanding and situations are so tense and tough you can’t help but get so disturbed as to keep twisting in your seat. This also happened to me with Funny Games, but that was a violent story from the beginning. La Pianiste is harder, more psychological.

From the beginning you notice Erika is insane and her surroundings totally poisoned. We’ve seen many cases, both real and fictional, of role models being caught in a shameful behavior, in this case, it’s very extreme but possible, and probably in the shape of a woman, perversity and filth are more shocking and repulsive.

Erika is the example of woman, repressed from her earlier years by a mother who wants her piano career to succeed, for the sake of the future, but actually for fulfilling what he couldn’t get when she had the opportunity, probably because she had her daughter among other issues. When I  watched the mother putting her daughter an angora jacket over her shoulders just when she had finished her piece at the concert I was getting sick. On the other hand, without a father figure, and with such a control freak mother, how could she learn about love or natural sexuality? She had to refer to pornography as the learning guide, getting a distorted picture…and we all know, the older you get the worse things turn into. Erika became a monster for not having a normal life.

As for Walter, probably his condition of good looking and successful with girls without an effort, made Erika as his new and impossible target, in a way to fulfill his already high self esteem, without really thinking about the weird signals he was witnessing until he fell deep on her and received the letter.

Music in this film is a very important feature and very meaningful. The passion Erika feels for Schubert, known for his bipolar disorder and venereal diseases, is interesting, there are deep resemblances among them. Schubert’s pieces seemed more anguishing  than others during the film,  more chaos and violence implied. On the other side, silence is present as well, causing a more suffocating effect.

Not sure what to think of la Pianiste, on one hand I think it’s a tortuous story, definitely not romantic, I don’t find love at all, but morbid attraction, selfishness and insanity. Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist also comes to my mind, with a woman possessed using sex in a violent manner to express madness.

I must admit I liked it better than the first time, and paid more attention to the characters, peculiar to say the least.

To be honest, rather than give my judgment, I would love to know what people think of this film, I find it tough and uncomfortable, but definitely interesting. I haven’t stopped thinking of it since yesterday…still I don’t find proper words to define what I saw.

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