La Pianiste (2001) (aka The Piano Teacher)
“Schubert’s dynamics range from scream to whisper, not loud to soft”
Michael Haneke‘s disturbing portrayal of an aging music teacher is definitely not for every one. Very graphic in nature and strongly thematic, La Pianiste (2001) attempts to simply document its central characters rather than offering a judgment on their conduct. A truly multi-layered film with characters that can be analyzed for hours.
Erika is a very talented piano teacher who has always been controlled and ruled by her mother’s orders and wishes. This has not only resulted in her social isolation but also has risen a need for upholding her esteem. Thus she is straddled between two mindsets- one of a domineering male who wants to take control of all her actions, the other being a typical female craving for all the love she never had got in her youth. She meets Walther, a young dashing engineering student who loves music. He is quite opposite in character, very clement and conventional. He is attracted to Erika for reasons unknown and enrolls in her class. Erika, too, is attracted to and possessive of Walther. But she does not reveal it for it may seem like she is not under her control. When she finally decides to reveal what’s in her mind to Walther, the latter is disgusted by her weird sexual fantasies and tries to quit, but finds he is unable to. Finally, fed up from it all, he does what Erika asked him to do. The climactic scene deciding Erika’s fate can be interpreted in a number of ways.
Music is a critical point in the film. Not only does it provide the atmosphere, but also stresses on the characters. Erika specializes in Schubert who was extreme in thoughts became unstable of mind late in his life. The moderate Walther is unable to adapt to Schubert as opposed to Erika. Isabelle Huppert is one of the best actors around and La Pianiste shows why. Right from the cold stares in the piano classes to the quibbles with her mother, Huppert lives as Erika. Benoit Magimel as Walther too provides the right kind of reinforcement that a character like Erika needs. Both of them won the top honours at Cannes Film Festival in 2001 for their performances.