Saturday, 19 March 2011

La Pianiste

2001 by Michael Haneke

Erika is Piano Professor, living with her dominating mother. Erika is in her forties, but she looks frustrated and disinterested, and seems to have never had any sex. She is very cold and does not date anybody and lies to her mother, who doesnt like her relationships, about a non existant boy friend, but visits Sex stores and watch porn in private cabins. She is indifferent even to her students. She and her mother considers herself to be the best, when it comes to the music of Schubert and Schumann. When she tells her mother that one of her student, Anna, is good in Schubert, even her mother seems to be jealous. Erika meets, Walter Kremmel, a young Engineering student during a private concert at his family residence. Walter is so impressed by her performance, but he is kept at a distance by Erika who acts very cold with all his attempts to get close to her. Walter did play a short item on Piano and Erika tries her best to pretend that she is not moved. Walter then tries to get enrolled for her music lesson and inspite of his excellent performance, which impresses all the other faculty, she does try to not pass him. He does eventually and even in the class Erika keeps the coldness and distance with him.

Anna has an important rehearsal which makes her very nervous, that even the singer gets nervous looking at her. Walter talks to her and seems to have relaxed her and she starts playing rather well. Erika, while Anna is playing, moves out of the auditorium and puts some glass sharpnels in her Jacket pocket. Anna injures her right hand, all important, fingers badly. Erika leaves the scene saying she cant stand blood. Walter, seeing this, realises that Erika is after all human and follows her into the Toilet. Here he opens out his love for her and kiss her. Erika, surprisingly, acts cool and even touches him and help him to get sexually aroused. And then she denies to continue, shocking Walter. She arouses him completely using her hand and even does some oral work, but would not let him continue/finish it off, either himself or by herself. She acts so weird and finally tells him that if he wants to have a relation with her, she will write to him or talk to him later about some conditions and only then will they proceed. Poor Walter can only agree. Later Walter follows her to her flat and wants to make love with her but Erika insists on him reading her letter. He doesnt understand this at all, but is forced to read the letter, a heavy one in fact. He is shocked by the contents of it though. It is all about how Erika wants their sex life to be, which is sadistic fetish or voyeuristic and perverted. He is shocked and leaves the room. Erika is disappointed to have been let alone by the only man who has shown some interest in her so approaches him again and confesses she will do it the way he wants. But in between, she pukes which is so disgusting for Walter. We then see Walter coming back to her flat, locks her mother in the room, and attacks Erika in the way she had described in the letter. He slaps her and kiss her, like she wrote, and shouts loud this is how you wanted. Erika by then realises the pain and want to stop but Walter rapes her while she lies down like a dead body.

Since Anna cannot perform, Erika has agreed to play the Piano. She is carrying a knife in her hand bag and is at the reception of the music hall. Everybody greets her, before going into the auditorium, telling how eager and excited they are to watch her perform. Erika is obviously waiting for Walter and when he arrives, he just pass over like anybody with a hypocritic indifference. Erica stabs herself on the chest and walks out of the hall. A terrific revenge.

This movie is based on a novel by the Nobel laureate, Elfriede Jellineke.

An out of the world charecterisation, that is the first thing that come to my mind. Erika is an intelligent woman, but she is cold, indifferent, angry, jealous, naive, proud, irritating, cruel and sadist and holds an expression less face in general. It is quite clear that she is like that because of her mother, herself being a strange character. I dont think I will be able to find a mother in Europe who will not want her daughter to have a relationship, even at 40 years. Erika is clearly attracted by sex and has to lie to her mother to even spend her time at porn stores. But it is quite normal that no man is attracted to her. And when finally there is one, she at first is shockingly negative. There are even scenes in the first half of this movie where I thought, oh what a woman she is. And I didnt see it coming at all. Her fantasy for a kind of sadistic and masochistic fetishes might be the reason behind her initial coldness to Walter. May be she just wanted to be sure that Walter is so drawn to her and will be ready to do anything to her before she can reveal her sexual fantasies. May be this is the reason for her behaviour in the Toilet scene. She does everything to a man, that she must not, when she knows that she will not complete the sexual action. She really takes him to the verge of being mad for sexual completion and then leaves him and tells on his face he must fulfill her conditions to have sex in future. And when Walter accepts it, she is sure that she has her man. But what Erica doesnt realise is that, whatever fantasies a man might have, of course normally a man can have more sadistic fantasies than women, when there is an initial attraction or love and especially if its the first union of a man and woman, it is impossible for any man, or even woman normally, to go for fantasies than for the first experience of 'making love' with his partner. When she makes Walter, who is out there perfectly ready to make love with her, read her letter and insists their union has to be on that ways, Walter normally feels she is sick and needs treatment. Poor Erika, here shows her utter ignorance about men. This is one point which assured my thought that Erika could be a virgin. I could be wrong though. The scene, where she uses the blade and mirror in the bath tub, first suggested this thought. After Walter leaves, we see a disappointed and crying Erika and it is sure that Erika was perfectly ready for sex while Walter was reading the letter. May be she hoped, Walter would read the letter and help her achieve one of her fantasies right away. Poor Erika, I repeat poor Erika, by then we feel sympathy for her. She even goes straight to her mother's bed and tries to kiss her, shocking the old woman. May be she realises by then that her only friend could be her mother. In spite of all her strange nature we start feeling for Erika. So when she pukes out after, while trying to please Walter, our sympathy for her is growing. By the time Walter is back to complete her wishes, Erika is really into us that I think any women watching might cry in that rape scene. And her revenge is brilliant. We do not know how hard she stabbed on herself, and if she bleeds to death or if she walked straight to a hospital. But what we know for sure is that there are hundreds of people waiting for her performance in that auditorium, Walter being one of them. And for sure Walter simply loves her performance.

A more than brilliant performance by Isabelle Huppert as Erika. If I was into giving points or stars, I would say its a five star plus performance. I am sure she have gone through great pains to complete this movie. This is no ordinary role to do.There were some subtle expressions on her face, for eg: when she listens to Walters performance, she make us understand that she is impressed with slight shiver on her face, which surprised me. I wonder how she must have felt after finishing the shooting of the toilet scene or the puking scene or even the letter reading scene or the rape scene. As a woman, she must have been affected horribly. I really feel proud and lucky that I was able to watch this performance by Isabelle Huppert. I salute you Maam.

Benoit Magimel as the young Walter does a brilliant job as well. He is charming and it is quite shocking for single, 40 plus, European woman to be negative to the advances from this boy. Excellent casting. He more than impresses us in the toilet scene, the letter reading scene and during the final rape scene. His eccentrics to cool down his arousal, in the toilet scene, is really good and funny.

And a big thumbs up to Annie Girardot as Erika's mother. She has much less scenes but she is present through out in the whole movie. The scene where she is surprised to receive a man with her daughter, who walks cool to her room and locks it from inside, and is eager to know what is happening inside, that was brilliant. Even when she is locked up, for the rape scene, her voice alone is enough to give us her presence in a big way, and to take that scene to a different level. Brilliant performer.

And finally full credits to Heneke for beautifully creating this movie. Especially since, he doesnt show any skin at all. Sex is there as a major factor in this movie but he doesnt let the camera go below waste level even in the toilet scene. He wants his actors to show everything with their face. A great challenge and he has been more than successfull. This is beautiful work let me say. There are no words to praise, I must confess.

And there is lot of beautiful music too.

I wish, I could write. For this is a kind of movie, a kind of aberration of sorts even amongst art house movies, about which I want to talk and talk. But I am unable to.

I feel lucky to have watched this classic. If there is anything called a "poetry of cinema, but on your face", La Pianiste is one.  If you havent watched this yet, please do. You will not regret it. May be you might not like it, but you will realise that you have seen something very different.

Let me just quote Haneke " My films are polemical statements against the American 'taking -by-surprise-before-one-can-think' cinema and its disempowerment of the spectator. It is an appeal for a cinema of insistent questioning in place of 'false-because-too-quick-answers', for clarifying distance in place of violating nearness. I want the spectator to think".