The Piano Teacher (film)

"La Pianiste" redirects here. For other uses, see Pianist (disambiguation).
The Piano Teacher
Directed by Michael Haneke
Produced by Veit Heiduschka
Yvon Crenn
Christine Gozlan
Michael Katz
Screenplay by Michael Haneke
Based on The Piano Teacher
by Elfriede Jelinek
Starring Isabelle Huppert
Benoît Magimel
Music by Martin Achenbach[1]
Cinematography Christian Berger
Edited by Monika Willi
Nadine Muse
Distributed by France:
MK2 Diffusion
Concorde Filmverleih
United States:
Kino International
Release dates
  • 14 May 2001 (2001-05-14) (Cannes)
  • 5 September 2001 (2001-09-05) (France)
  • 11 October 2001 (2001-10-11) (Germany)
Running time
131 minutes[2]
Country France
Language French
Budget €3 million
Box office $9.8 million[3][4]

The Piano Teacher (French: La Pianiste) is a 2001 French-Austrian erotic thriller film written and directed by Michael Haneke and starring Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel. The film is based on 2004 Nobel Prize for Literature winner[5] Elfriede Jelinek's 1983 novel of the same name.


Erika Kohut is a piano professor at a Vienna music conservatory. Although already in her forties, she still lives in an apartment with her domineering mother. Her father is a long-standing resident in a psychiatric asylum.

The audience is gradually shown truths about Erika's private life. Behind her assured façade, she is a woman whose sexual repression is manifested in a long list of paraphilia, including (but by no means limited to) voyeurism and sadomasochistic fetishes such as sexual self-mutilation.

When Erika meets Walter Klemmer, a charming 17-year-old engineering student from a middle class background, a mutual obsession develops. Even though she initially attempts to prevent consistent contact and even tries to undermine his application to the conservatory, he eventually becomes her pupil. Like her, he appreciates and is a gifted interpreter of Schumann and Schubert.

Erika destroys the musical prospects of an insecure but talented girl, Anna Schober, driven by her jealousy of the girl's contact with Walter—and also, perhaps, by her fears that Anna's life will mirror her own. She does so by hiding shards of glass inside one of Anna's coat pockets, damaging her right hand and ruining her aspirations to play at the forthcoming jubilee concert. Erika then pretends to be sympathetic when Anna's mother asks for advice on her daughter's recuperation. (The sub-plot of the pupil and her mother, mirroring the main relationship in the film, is absent in Jelinek's novel.) In a moment of dramatic irony, the girl's mother rhetorically asks Erika who could do something so evil.

Walter pursues Erika into a lavatory immediately after she has secretly ruined her pupil's hand. Walter passionately kisses Erika even though she is rebuffing him. Erika finally responds to his passion, but insists on repeatedly controlling, humiliating and frustrating Walter.

Walter is increasingly insistent in his desire to start a sexual relationship with Erika, but Erika is only willing if he will satisfy her masochistic fantasies, which repulse him. The film climaxes, however, when he attacks her in her apartment in the fashion she let him know she desired, beating and then raping her, outside her mother's bedroom door. He then leaves.

The next day, Erika takes a kitchen knife to the concert where she is scheduled to fill in for the injured Anna. She delays going to the stage because she is desperate to see Walter, but Walter enters cheerful and laughing with his family. Moments before the concert is due to start, Erika stabs herself superficially in the shoulder and exits the concert hall into the street.


Critical reception

The film won a slew of awards on the European circuit, most notably the Grand Prix at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, with the two leads, Huppert and Magimel, winning Best Actress and Best Actor.

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 73% approval rating based on 81 reviews, with the site consensus being: "Though it makes for rather unpleasant viewing, The Piano Teacher is a riveting and powerful psychosexual drama."[6]



2001 Cannes Film Festival

2002 César Awards

2002 German Film Awards

2001 European Film Academy

2002 L.A. Film Critics Association

2002 National Society of Film Critics

2001 Russian Guild of Film Critics

2002 San Francisco Film Critics Circle

2002 Seattle International Film Festival


2003 Bodil Awards

2001 Cannes Film Festival

2002 César Awards

2001 British Academy Awards

2001 European Film Academy

2002 Independent Spirit Award

See also


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