AKA: La Pianiste
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Isabelle Huppert (Erika Kohut), Benoit Magimel (Walter Klemmer), Annie Girardot (Mother)
Country: France, Austria; Effed Up European Films
Language: French (Eng Subs); Effed Up French Cinema
Genres: Family, Domestic Abuse, Older-Younger Relationships, SelfHarm, Sexual-Violence against Women, Voyeur, SM-Roleplay, Misery-Depressing
Plot – Spoilers:
A Viennese piano teacher, Erika, specializing in Schubert shares an apartment and a complex relationship with her mother. They fight, sometimes it gets physical, then they hug and make up. But it’s always Erika saying sorry.
Their rivalry is symbolic quite early on when they head to a private recital. Mother is dressed fancy wearing jewellery while Erika’s in a dull coat. And it’s Erika’s performance. There is no rivalry.
Mother has total control of Erika’s life including romance and sexuality. But Erika, who needs a permission slip from mother if she’s gonna be home a few hours late, is a different cold beast outdoors where she’s respected but feared by her peers and students.
A person resigned to their sexuality being a solo activity can get weirdly creative. And so it is with Erika. Watching porn at home is out of the question, so she goes to a rental and watches movies while sniffing the used spunk-laden tissues lying there. Sometimes she just mutilates her pussy. Other times, it’s less dramatic as she voyeurs around couples fucking in public and takes a piss in suffering ecstasy as tears roll down her cheeks. But whatever she gets up to outside home, when she returns, she’s quick to check her heels and make sure there’s no dirt for mother to notice she’s been out, offroad.
All this though is just a small half in a work of mastery from the Austrian master, Michael Haneke.
A cocksure young man, Walter, tries to force himself into Erika’s icy world and we see another side to her as she flits between S and M, while awakening in Walter, things he was unaware of. This takes a while though, because Erika by force of habit doesn’t want to get to know Walter like regular folk do. She needs to be able to study him from afar, to form an opinion of him when he’s not around her – in short, all impressions of him are to not come from outside, but from within, as she reiterates her opinions to herself.
Outstanding performances from two leads is what’s needed for a deeply complex relationship and that’s exactly what Haneke extracts here.
So why are characters set in Vienna talking mostly in French. Apparently Haneke was so sure he wanted Isabelle Huppert, he just got everyone to go French.