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The Piano Teacher


Year: 2001 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Perhaps it would seem pretentious to say that the most exciting film of last year was a French film, directed by an Austrian, about a sexually repressed piano teacher. Pretentious, maybe. True, almost definitely. The Piano Teacher is a film which could leave you breathless with its sheer intensity, stunned by its unflinching audacity, and with a whole new idea about what makes a film truly wonderful. It's certainly not special effects, it's not even necessarily a strong script (although film certainly has one of those) - it's a sense that what is happening on the screen is touching and attaching itself to your life. It is here that The Piano Teacher not only succeeds, but sets new and daunting boundaries.

The story revolves around a seemingly distant and cold middle-aged piano teacher, played to unnerving perfection by Isabelle Huppert, and her masochistic relationship with herself, her domineering mother, and an arrogant young protégé. At the basest level this exists as some kind of twisted love story, as the young student pursues his frosty quarry despite her cutting rebuttals. However, the film serves more as a devastating character-dissection of the titular pianist, as we become privy to her most intensely personal and painful moments.

And she is a deeply, deeply disturbed human being - she commits acts of hideous violence upon herself, debases and humiliates herself and shields herself completely form any relationship other than that with her live-in, domineering mother. Watching this woman self-destruct in front of our eyes is at once almost unbearably disturbing and brutally compelling. The performance of Isabelle Huppert is one that really does transcend the bounds set by screen acting - the fact that she was not even considered for an Oscar highlights the severely limited view of the Academy. Although it really is her show, the secondary performances are equally flawless, as those around her react to her bizarre behaviour.

The Piano Teacher is one of those films during which you literally cannot tear your eyes from the screen; every moment is filled with a dangerous energy and unpredictability that mounts to a feverish anticipation by the conclusion. This is an exciting film, but exciting in the real, emotional sense, as opposed to the vapid, testosterone fuelled silliness of movies such as Armageddon. This is an absolute must see for people who wish to see the true power of film, and, for me, the most impressive film of 2001.

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

2001/2002 Summer Term (35mm)