Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is a veteran piano instructor at a famous music conservatory in Vienna. Erika is highly respected for her remarkable talent and strong discipline, but she's also known to be a harsh taskmistress and does not suffer fools gladly; among her students, Erika's class is considered a highly rewarding challenge, but difficult to weather. Erika seems to get her stern and unforgiving nature from her mother (Annie Girardot), with whom she still lives, and without a husband or a lover, Erika satisfies her strong but frequently perverse sexual appetites through extreme porn videos, voyeurism, and masturbatory practices that sometimes involve pain and self-mutilation.
Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert), is a 30-ish spinster who lives with her elderly mother (Annie Girardot), in an apartment in Vienna. She teaches piano at the conservatorium and gets her kicks from going to porno shops and watching hard core videos. She also mutilates herself. At night, she often sleeps in her mother’s bed. Then she meets Walter (Benoit Magimel), a student, who is attracted to her – the attraction leads her into a sado-masochistic relationship, carried out on Erika’s terms.
The Piano Teacher is an exceedingly problematic film. It starts off well, once you accept Huppert as a dowdy 30 something spinster, and the scenes between mother and daughter are strong. But the relationship between Erika and Walter is pretty unconvincing, and the longer the film continues – and it’s very long – the less interesting it gets.
Michael Haneke is capable of much better work than this over wrought and extremely ponderous study in sexual sadism. It was well received last year in Cannes, winning the second prize plus best actress (probably deserved) and best actor (probably not deserved), but it’s pretty disappointing.