The Piano Teacher
dir. Haneke
Opens Fri April 26
Cinema 21

What happens when you lose sight of your own priorities? In the case of The Piano Teacher (played by Isabelle Huppert), you forget who you are. Instead of looking inward, this piano teacher projects her pain and vengeance on others to make her feel alive.

A good-looking piano prodigy in his late teens (the daunting Benoît Magimel) falls for his rigid yet talented piano teacher. He is aroused by her piano playing and enjoys the challenge of trying to break through her tough exterior--the trouble is, she has serious mental problems. Not only is she in her 40s and still living with her overbearing mother, but she's completely repressed, depressed, and violently disturbed--which makes for a difficult roll in the hay.

Included are some brilliant scenes of the piano teacher's struggle with her fetishes and sanity--including stomach turning self-mutilation and incest--and her confused reactions to someone who actually cares about her.

While the film delicately uncovers the dark and perverse, one major problem is that it limps along. Long gratuitous shots of the piano teacher playing, or, say, a white wall, distract from the juicy story and serve no real purpose. The plot takes forever to unfold, especially when you know an affair is afoot--and the action is minimal. You think the director is restraining the pace in order to build tension--like at some point there will be some unbridled sexual fury or climax, but there really isn't. I guess that should be expected from a main character who's demented and repressed--she tries for a moment to be normal and then pulls away--but this makes the film less than satisfying.

The Piano Teacher can be painful but also kind of good, because it's drenched with the frustration of watching someone who isn't driving her own life. Instead of breaking away from her mother or going after her dreams, the piano teacher accepts her pathetic existence and turns to deviance for pleasure--even though, if she were to take charge, pleasure would be a lot easier to find.