The Piano Teacher

It's funny, actually. I would have ignored this movie based on title alone. 'The Piano Teacher' could have slipped past my radar altogether if I hadn't scanned over a review of it in New York magazine, a gossip-slanted publication that offers exceptionally detailed movie and theater listings in New York City. Instead of the 16th-18th century French prodigy film I had expected, the article portrayed it as an artful take on sexual inhibitions and sadomasochism.

Let me be honest here. "Artful" and "sadomasochism" belong in a sentence together about as much as "doughnut" and "metallurgy," and often make for awful speculative films and literature. So I decided to give it a shot, my only reason being that I had hoped it would be as bizarre and intriguing as 'Trouble Every Day', another French art house film I had watched recently, and maintain my interest more than typical Hollywood glut. The premise borders on the stereotypical: a reserved and bitter middle-aged woman teaches piano to adolescent and college-aged students at an esteemed conservatory, while secretly nurturing dark sexual fantasies. These, however, are kept concealed and suppressed by her own doing, and by the meddling domineering ways of her mother, who she both lives and sleeps (in the same bed) with.

Into this imperfect world enters a student with amorous intentions for the unhappy professor. His flirtations with her grow ultimately into a first encounter that is both awkward and ill-timed, happening over an hour into the film. From this point on, the issue becomes the balance of power between the two, but the audience is essentially bored and will accept any outcome by this point.

Sadly, I was underwhelmed by the subdued and often tedious storyline that forced the viewer to wait until close to the end for some real meaty plot twists, which were pleasantly unexpected. Perhaps that's where the real sadism lies, in torturing the audience for over 2 hours with some occasional gratification, such as a delicious scene involving vicious sabotage when the male lead focuses his flirtations on another student. And like most sexual encounters, the movie's ending leaves the viewer unfulfilled and selfishly wanting for more. I'm pretty sure that director Michael Haneke feels satisfied. Typical male.