Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Original title: La Pianiste
France/Austria/Poland, 2001. Arte France Cinema, ARTE, Bavaria Film International, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Canal+, Centre National De La Cinematographie, Eurimages, Filmfonds Wien, Les Films Alain Sarde, MK2 Productions, Wega Film, Osterreichischer Rundfunk, Österreichisches Filminstitut. Screenplay by Michael Haneke, based on the novel by Elfriede Jelinek. Cinematography by Christian Berger. Produced by Veit Heiduschka. Production Design by Christoph Kanter. Costume Design by Annette Beaufays. Film Editing by Nadine Muse, Monika Willi.
Absolutely unsettling psychological drama about an Austrian piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert), whose many years of sexual repression, an overprotective mother (Annie Girardot) and everyone’s constant expectations of her to live up to Austrian ideals of artistic excellence and unsentimental endurance have left her a complete masochist who indulges in the most disturbing self-destruction. Along comes a sexy young student (Benoît Magimel) who offers his affection to his beloved teacher and in return is given a list of demands of sadistic things she wants him to do to her. Repulsed by the offer, the student pulls away but after all the conflict of emotion she puts him through eventually finds himself awakening to desires that fit more in her world than in his. Director Michael Haneke doesn’t shy away one whit from showing up close the heinous nature of Huppert’s desire, but neither does he indulge in exploitative images to shock and disturb; this is a story of a broken woman who has fallen out of love with her life, if she ever was in love with it in the first place, and the upsetting scenes will leave you feeling pain for her rather than disdain for the explicit nature of the story. The success of the film, however, rests with the perfect, tour-de-force performance given by the leading lady. Huppert strips away layer after layer as the film progresses, boiling down to a very naked soul at the very end. Magimel is notable for being the perfect match for her, boisterous and charming every place that she is dark and frightening. Be very, very careful before choosing to watch this one, it will disturb you, but for those of you willing to stick it out and put some effort into it, the pay-off in the end is well worth it.
The Criterion Collection: #894
Cannes Film Festival Awards: Grand Jury Prize; Best Actor (Benoit Magimel); Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert)
European Film Award: Best European Actress (Isabelle Huppert)
Nominations: Best European Film; Best European Screenwriter
Toronto International Film Festival: 2001