review for The Piano Teacher on AllMovie

The Piano Teacher (2001)
by Andrea LeVasseur review

Based on the novel by Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek and directed by German torture-meister Michael Haneke, the psycho-drama The Piano Teacher is sure to be a shocking experience for audiences expecting the usual light touches and sensuality of French cinema. This bleak story is spoken in French, but takes place in Vienna, Austria, the home to both Sigmund Freud and Franz Schubert. Incorporating themes from both masters of psychology and composition, respectively, the film effectively links the harsh cruelties of classical music scholarship with an increasingly disturbing mother/daughter relationship. From the first scene, it is apparent that the Mother (Annie Girardot) has caused her daughter a lifetime of suffering and sacrifice in the name of musical perfection, thus breaking her spirit indefinitely. The film works best as a frustrating character study of the daughter, Professor Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), who exhibits a coldness and insensitivity that is affirmed through her repressed sexual deviancy. The ugly scenes with cocky student Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel) are charged with intense conflict as the aggressively handsome young man tries to pursue his frigid master teacher. The momentum is changed after the climactic moment between mother and daughter, where the narrative seems to only confirm Erika's madness. An interesting intellectual pondering on the nature of sexual repression, The Piano Teacher is a frightening portrait of a broken woman.