{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Monday, February 28, 2005


This weekend I saw two movies, almost diagonally apart. One is Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher and the second is the Giuseppe Tornatore's classic Cinema Paradiso. The Piano teacher is about female psyche and the unearthed sides of it and Cinema Paradiso is about a romantic affair of a boy with movies. One is dark and disturbing, other light and heart-ringing, but made a good cocktail and I still have a pleasant hangover. I feel I should write about The Piano Teacher first.

The Piano Teacher is a compelling and psycho dramatic portrayal of a woman in her late 30s, and her darker chambers. The Piano teacher is a movie where you see the mind of 'Erika' peeled off layer by layer. The otherwise plain and almost pious looking Erika has her dark sexual fantasies that are more sado-masochistic than sexual. Erika wants to take the reins of desires in her hand and took pleasure out of it. There are several points in the movie where Erika do the things we could hardly expect from her if we believe her saintly appearance. The episode of putting broken glass pieces in her pupil's coat is nerve-chilling to see, closely followed by it is another shocking display of sadism in a brilliant scene in lavatory with one of her good-looking and talented student, Walter. Here she behaves more like a typical male and try to take control of the situation in whatever way she likes.

Erika doesn't have a sweet relationship with her mother and her father is in asylum. The relations with her students is almost coldly sadistic, we never hear her praising any of them. She was sexually starved but not in a straight way but distorted to a level that we discover in a multi-page letter that she writes to Walter. Walter who longed for her soon starts loathing her after reading the letter and announces her to be 'sick' and try to give her what he calls 'a deserved punishment' in the penultimate scene of the movie for apparently messing up with a 'man'!

Isabelle Huppert as Erika gives a solid performance where she enters into unlit alleys of Erika's mind with laser-like intensity. Her portrayal of a woman with unnaturally hindered emotions is honestly moving and truly believable. We don't feel any true sympathy for her except in last few sequences. Benot Magimel as Walter is impeccable as a man in love to a man in hate, loathing and disgust. Both of them shift gears easily when they exchange the roles of the tormentor and the tormented.

There is one more important component of the movie and that is Piano, it serves as the pain-generating machine through out the movie, standing on the thin lines between chilling music, agony and madness. The music lessons seldom generate any warmth or peace but they generate an unsettling disturbance that Erika lynches her students with.

The last scene is difficult to assimilate or rather difficult to watch. Here Erika's pain and self-loathing are so evident that it hurts. The Piano Teacher is not about any moral fool-talk. Its infact a terrific character sketch of a woman with confused desires, bizarre fantasies, one who tries to make her rules of love, one who finds brutal rape more pleasurable than tender love making, a slap more satisfying than a kiss.

No comments: