Dinner For One (1995)
Abbas Kiarostami
France/Iran
1 Min.

 

Abbas Kiarostami’s short for Lumiére and Company (1995), the film made to commemorate a century of cinema, is arguably the best of the 40 odd films in the compilation. The short films were to be made using the earliest camera that the Lumiére siblings had devised and in accordance with three basic rules, aimed at replicating the filming constraints prevalent a hundred years ago – the films could run for more than a minute, they had to be filmed using a static camera and no artificial sound or light could be used. Kiarostami, being the iconoclast he is, breaks one of the rules instantly by making sound a critical part of his film. Titled “Dinner for One”, the short film shows us two eggs being fried on a pan placed over a hot stove. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, a woman (voiced by none other than Isabelle Huppert) on the phone urges the person (invisible to us, presumably a man) to pick up the phone and talk to her. She seems to know that he is in the house and, yet, is not willing to pick up the phone. The man, on the other hand, continues to fry the two eggs (a couple?) without paying any heed to the call. Proving once more, as he has so consistently done in his marvelous career, that minimalism actually means maximum utilization of available resources, Kiarostami presents a film that can well be regarded as a crash course in minimalism by one of the greatest exponents of the school. Having us see just a couple of eggs being fried and hear an unanswered phone call, Kiarostami paints a heartbreaking portrait of failed relationships and unrequited love.

La Pianiste (2001) (aka The Piano Teacher)
French
Michael Haneke

“Schubert’s dynamics range from scream to whisper, not loud to soft”
 

The Piano TeacherMichael 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.