Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

The Piano Teacher 2001

La Pianiste

Directed by Michael Haneke

Austria / France In French with English subtitles
129 minutes 35mm



Veit Heiduschka


Michael Haneke. Based on the novel by Elfriede Jelinek


Christian Berger


Monika Willi
Nadine Muse


Isabelle Huppert (Erika Kohut)
Annie Girardot (The Mother)
Benoît Magimel (Walter Klemmer)
Anna Sigalevitch (Anna Schober)
Susanne Lothar (Mrs Schober)
Udo Samel (Dr Blonskij)


Cannes (In Competition), Melbourne, Toronto, Vancouver, London 2001


"Isabelle Huppert gives the performance of her career as Professor Erika Kohut, a distinguished piano teacher and Schubert scholar at the Vienna Conservatory. She is brilliant, demanding, unsmiling: a martinet who humiliates her impressionable students – and she lives at home with her elderly mother, played by Annie Girardot, who in turn terrorises and bullies her. 

Then a beautiful young student named Walter (Benoît Magimel) arrives on the scene, with whom Erika embarks on a very strange amour fou. Haneke reveals that the emotionally arid discipline of Erika’s musical life, and the sado-masochism of her relations with her students and her mother, have turned her into a world-class sociopath… 

This is the performance that Huppert hints at in the Chabrol movie Merci pour le chocolat: cold, malign and profoundly disturbed. Her face, innocent of make-up and adorned only by freckles, often looks like that of a strange 12-year-old living in her own private world. Close-ups look like the very last frame in Polanski’s Repulsion: a freaky vision of a mad, murderous little girl… 

A family movie it isn’t. This could not be clearer than in the sequence in which Erika becomes insanely jealous at some (tiny) flirting going on between Walter and a girl his own age, a timid accompanist whom Walter is trying to coax out of stage-fright. Calmly, and with extravagant malice aforethought, Erika wreaks an unspeakably spiteful revenge on her. There is something more quintessentially evil in that scene, more wicked (to use that quaint word in its original sense) than in a thousand ‘violent’ or ‘scary’ movies... 

In an essay about Glenn Gould for the London Review of Books, Nicholas Spice suggested there might be something inhuman in the discipline of the piano, perhaps because it is the instrument that most closely resembles a machine… The transcendent beauty of art anaesthetises us to the squalor in real life, and the inordinate sacrifices necessary to create that art can deepen the squalor. 

Some might conclude that by juxtaposing high culture and S&M filth, while offering no obvious palliative psychological explanation, The Piano Teacher is Euro art-shock porn. But that is to overlook its cold and steely brilliance: an inspired nightmare – chamber music for a chamber of horrors. And in her severity, her mad anger and tragic fear of love, Isabelle Huppert gives one of the most compelling performances to be seen this year." — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian