Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Piano Teacher (2001, Michael Haneke)

Quest Status: 722 / 1000

TSPDT Rank #699

I've always been meaning to get into the films of Michael Haneke, but...

No, I won't go there. Sure, I had only seen two Haneke films (The Castle and the original Funny Games) before this one. But let's put that aside. After watching The Servant, I saw The Piano Teacher in my watchlist and was irresistibly drawn to it, although I knew little about it. The little I sensed from the poster and a few scattered comments across the internet about control and sadomasochism were enough to intuit that it was the natural next step after the frustratingly vague but endlessly disturbing insinuations of The Servant.
And indeed, this is the next step. Rather than masters and servants, The Piano Teacher focuses on the power dynamics between teacher and student. In a world where most people no longer listen to classical music, the existence of those who perform it becomes  cutthroat and unforgiving. Enterprising students practice can for eight hours a day while their parents prod them to go further - and for respected professors like Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), a cold and frightening virtuoso teacher, it can never be enough. But Professor Kohut has problems of her own. She lives with her mother in a tiny Vienna apartment, her every move thrown under abusive levels of scrutiny despite being in her late 40s. She seems to have little to no sexual experience, stealing away to sleazy porno shops to vicariously experience what is always out of reach to someone as inaccessible and devoid of feelings as she is, while performing acts of self-mutilation and dreaming up masochist fantasies to punish herself for her perceived sins.