Directed by Michael Haneke | Austria/France | 131 mins.
Adapted from a casually nasty novel by Austrian Nobel Prize-winning author Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher finds Jelinek’s countryman Michael Haneke, cinema’s reigning laureate of emotional glaciation, casting Isabelle Huppert for the first of what would subsequently prove to be numerous times, arguably in the defining role of her career. The Piano Teacher tells the story of Erika (Huppert), a piano instructor at a Viennese conservatory. Erika sleeps in the same bed as her aging mother, with whom she has a fraught and deeply pathological relationship, the two women emotionally cut off from the world outside. When a young male student enters her world, Erika’s deeply repressed fantasy life begins to warp her, precipitating a series of increasingly aberrant sexual outbursts. More than one commentator has described Huppert’s performance in The Piano Teacher, which won her her second Best Actress Award at Cannes, as one of the finest in the history of cinema. Huppert’s icy and inscrutable affect works supremely well with the classicism of Haneke’s austere vision, and when called upon to go to extreme places in unflinching, voyeuristic long takes, she fearlessly takes up the challenge. It is unquestionably as brave a performance as you will ever see.
- Written by Jason Wierzba