Michael Haneke, France, 2001, 131 min.
After watching this film I think I found out what has drawn me to Haneke as a writer and as a director. He’s restrained in his style and evasive in his content. He doesn’t give you all the answers. The motivations you have to figure out for yourself, and if you need closure you have to earn it as a viewer.
This is not a cop-out, though. His films raise questions, and the fact that these questions are thought of and that the viewer has a need to get them answered show that Haneke strikes a chord. And he does it both with his form and his substance, which is rare in a director.
The Piano Teacher is the story of Erika (Isabelle Hupperte), a repressed professor who lives with her overbearing mother. She spends her days teaching and acting out in her own little ways in an effort to feel something. To get something out of life. Porn, voyeurism, genital mutilation. In the hands of a lesser director it would be sensationalism, but Haneke treads the line perfectly.
Erika doesn’t have what she wants but then she meets Walter (Benoît Magimel), a handsome young piano prodigy who seemingly has everything in life but still falls in love with her. She tells him what she wants, what she desires. This leads to actions and circumstances that neither of them were ready for.
Haneke, although at the top of his game, is far from the only big player in this film. Huppert and Magimel give two of the best performances I have ever seen. It’s remarkable how deep they make these characters. They lose themselves in the roles and the results strengthen an already strong film.
The ending of the film plays on Haneke’s strengths that I outlined above, and thus may be a disappointment to some. There is closure, but its not a traditional ending. When the credits appear, you are left wondering, and if my reaction was any indication, you will be thinking about the film days later. What Haneke does not reveal resonates much more than anything he could have shown.