How far is a man willing to go to be with the woman he wants? Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is a veteran piano instructor at a famous music conservatory in Vienna. Erika is highly respected for her remarkable talent and strong discipline, but she's also known to be a harsh taskmistress and does not suffer fools gladly; among her students, Erika's class is considered a highly rewarding challenge, but difficult to weather. Erika seems to get her stern and unforgiving nature from her mother (Annie Girardot), with whom she still lives, and without a husband or a lover, Erika satisfies her strong but frequently perverse sexual appetites through extreme porn videos, voyeurism, and masturbatory practices that sometimes involve pain and self-mutilation. Erika discovers she has attracted the attentions of one of her students, Walter (Benoit Maginel), a gifted and good-looking young man who does not seem at all put off by her icy personality. She refuses to acknowledge Walter's romantic overtures, but when he rises to the defense of a fellow student after a recital, Erika is enraged, and Walter pursues her, finally following her as she storms off to the women's room. Erika abruptly approaches Walter in a rough sexual fashion, but refuses to fully satisfy him until he is willing to allow her to control the relationship. When Walter becomes aware of just how much pain and humiliation is involved in Erika's erotic bill of fare, he refuses to participate, but in time his attraction to her causes him to weaken, and he begins to accede to her sexual demands. La Pianiste was shown in competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, where Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Maginel were named Best Actress and Best Actor, and writer/director Michael Haneke received the Jury's Grand Prize.
by Mark Deming synopsis