By Tan Ming Hua:

Why can’t I look at you?
Because if I do, I won’t resist the temptation to kiss you on the neck.
May I kiss you on the neck?


The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste), directed by Michael Haneke won three awards in the Cannes Film Festival 2001 (Best Actress, Best Actor and Grand Prix). The Piano Teacher is a French film about a woman in her forties living with her over-domineering mother. She is seen to be very cold, composed, distant and demanding, however she lives a life of self-mutilation (Roger Ebert).

Michael Haneke’s films are more towards the dark and violent sides, exploring child murderers, suicide, and sexual repression etc, while his directing style are more staged realism, violence, and pornography. He is known for using multiple long shots, minimal cuts, and the symmetric frames.

The Piano Teacher triggers many questions left unanswered, and Haneke made it so that we can answer it however we want. In the opening act, Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) is quarrelling with her mother about her whereabouts. It leaves me wondering if this has been a recurring act or is it just Erika’s loss of control for a moment? Of course, she sleeps beside her mother, what can you expect from a mother who wants to know your every move? The usage of long shots prove that Erika is distant and unfeeling towards her surroundings; people, things or places alike. Throughout the film, little emotion has been radiated from Erika, all she gives is a cold and dispassionate look.

Walter waltz in. Handsome, rich and charming Walter. Perhaps his claim for his love for her is only misunderstood as lust. It’s implied he wishes for long-term relationship and mutual love, he wants her as much she wants him. He longs for her, his addiction to get into her pants.

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At a rehearsal for the jubilee concert, from the point of view of Erika, she sees Walter being friendly and encouraging Anna, Erika’s student, who is too nervous to play for the rehearsal. There is a pretty long close-up shot of her as the rehearsal goes on, where her face still lacks emotion, but gradually tears start to form.

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In this picture, the line of symmetry is evident. It shows Erika pondering over her decision for her evil deed.Perhaps driven by jealousy, and how she doesn’t want Anna to become like her, Erika destroys all hopes of Anna playing in the concert by putting shards of glass inside her coat, damaging Anna’s right hand. She tells Walter to attend to Anna after her scream. And of all places, she locks herself up in the toilet.

In Erika and Walter’s first sexual encounter, Erika is giving him a fellatio. She wants to be the submissive, and along the intercourse explains what she wants Walter to do, naturally giving her the “dominant” role. The frustration and anger built up inside Walter which eventually led the whole thing become a failure since he didn’t come. This led to Erika’s addiction to her fantasies, and Walter just wants to have sex with her. Their second sexual encounter starts when Erika tells Walter she loves him, another fellatio. This time, he comes and having utterly lost control, Erika vomits.

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Walter is disgusted by Erika’s fantasies as he reads the letter in her house. He thinks sex is a natural thing, with his grand background and upbringing, and he is aghast at how precise Erika’s rules are. He leaves in a fit, rejecting Erika and throwing abuses at her. He came back dead drunk having labelled Erika’s sexual rules as violence and proceeds on to rape her. Walter is too dense to understand that all Erika wants is to have complete loss of control.

Before the jubilee concert, Erika is seen to have hidden a knife in her purse, and it’s implied that she’s going to hurt Walter for hurting her. Before the concert starts, Erika meets Anna and her mother and introduces both mothers to each other. It’s implied that Erika’s mother thinks her daughter is a failure, her talent is wasted on being a teacher, no matter how prestigious the school after her reply when Anna’s mother said she must be proud of her daughter: “Why? It’s a school concert. She’s standing in for a pupil.” Erika is seen to interested in other things, her eyes wandering around.


As Walter waltz in again with a group of other people, he casually states how he can’t wait to see her play. This devastating statement no women would want to hear after being raped or fucked by the man they loved. Erika’s face is a mixture of devastation and hopelessness. The ending scene implies that more self-mutilation will follow suit as we see her leaving the foyer. The mis en scene of the long shot of the entrance as Erika takes her leave proves that she is truly alone and seems to have lost all connections.

You must be patient.
I’ll give you all the names,
we’ll play all the games you want.

Ebert, R. 2002. The Piano Teacher Movie Review (2002) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-piano-teacher-2002 [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

gmanasininewarblings. 2011. ‘The Piano Teacher’ review/analysis. [online] Available at: http://gmanasininewarblings.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/the-piano-teacher-reviewanalysis/ [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

Rieneck, A. 2002. The Piano Teacher, an anlysis – Alex Rieneck – Movie Reviews – Gnomon Publishing. [online] Available at: http://www.gnomon.com.au/movies/alex-rieneck/thepianoteacheranalysis.shtml [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

Upload.wikimedia.org. n.d.. Untitled. [online] Available at: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/8/88/The_Piano_Teacher_film.jpg/220px-The_Piano_Teacher_film.jpg [Accessed: 23 Jun 2013].

zoejacksongibson. 2013. Directing Style of the Renowned Michael Haneke. [online] Available at: http://michaelhanekedirector.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/directing-style-of-the-renowned-michael-haneke/ [Accessed: 19 Jun 2013].

Ming Hua lives life crossing over the lines she drew.


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