Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Piano Teacher(2001) aka. La Pianiste

Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke (writer). Elfriede Jelinek (novel)

Starring:Isabelle Huppert, Annie Girardot, Benoît Magimel

What do you get when you combine an aging, eccentric, piano teacher prone to masochism and a handsome, young rake who likes to play ice hockey and Schumann…? You get director Michael Haneke’s film The Piano Teacher.

This film stars Isabelle Huppert as the eccentric Erika Kohut, a professor of classical piano at a respected musical conservatory in Vienna who lives with her overbearing, co-dependant mother. Except for the fact that living with her mother drives Erika to pursue hobbies such as voyeurism, pornography, and self-mutilation, everything is going hunky dory in Erika’s life. That is until she meets a dashing, young, but talented, electrical engineer/pianist named Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel). The two meet at a piano recital where they both are performing. Walter begins his romantic pursuit of the icy Erika with a seductive performance of Schumann. Little does Monsieur Klemmer know that he may be in for more than he bargained for…

The Piano Teacher garnered several film awards including the Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury award and also the Best Actor and Best Actress awards. Isabelle Huppert’s performance as Erika Kohut is so amazing. She is pure genius in this role.

Benoît Magimel is also superb as the dashing young suitor Walter Klemmer. His acting is very human and unapologetic in its portrayal of a young man who totally loses his grip on reality while pursuing the woman he desires.

Another performance worth mentioning is that of the Annie Girardot who plays Erika’s mother. The scenes between Girardot and Huppert are so layered and well acted.

If you watch the DVD, it features a very fascinating interview with Huppert herself. Huppert talks about the making of the film as well as her own views on acting. It is very interesting to see how her real life behavior compares to her behavior in the movie. A very educational interview for any actor.

The Piano Teacher is a film about love and seduction. The main character of Erika Kohut struggles with her desire for love and her fears of being seduced. The actions she takes to avoid the pain of seduction ultimately contribute to her greater downfall. Due to the graphic nature of it's depiction of rape and themes of sexual perversity, viewers be warned, while a french film, this movie is not really a first date movie... unless of course your date happens to be an only child piano teacher with an overbearing mother and a proclivity towards pornographic films, voyeurism, and masochistic self-mutilation. That said, this movie is an example of acting and story telling at it’s finest.

If you watched this movie and liked it you may also like the following movies:

Dangerous Liaisons, The Libertine, 2046, In The Mood For Love, I Heart Huckabees, Last Tango in Paris, Ma Mére

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Infernal Affairs(2003)

Everyone has seen or at least knows about the awesome film The Departed starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Mat Dammon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Sheen. But did you know that The last two thirds of The Departed is actually based on a hong kong film called Infernal Affairs? This movie was made in 2004 and features several big name Hong Kong actors including, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Andy Lau, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Kelly Chen and Sammi Cheng. The movie was such a hit in Hong Kong that it inspired a prequel Infernal Affairs 2 and a sequel Infernal Affairs 3, and obviously Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

The basic story is mostly the same as The Departed. An undercover cop named Chen Wing-Yan(Tony Leung) infiltrates deep into a Triad gang. Meanwhile a Triad gang member Lau Kin-Ming(Andy Lau) infiltrates the Hong Kong police force. While each man gathers intelligence for his organization, the stresses of leading a dual life begin to take their toll.

I liked the fact that, while very similar to its American counterpart, Infernal Affairs is different not just in terms of plot but also in the overall “feel” of the movie. The best way I can describe it is that it focuses more on group dynamics rather than on individual character arcs. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are strong in both movies, but where The Departed emphasizes the perspective of each individual, Infernal Affairs highlights the “game theory” and strategizing aspects of the story. In Infernal Affairs, the characters seem to be almost pawns in a game through which they must constantly navigate in order to survive. A good example is the first “battle” scene of the movie. In Infernal Affairs, the teamwork that goes on between the two groups of the mobsters and the police is emphasized . There is a dramatic scene between the two rival factions when the head mobster and his gang are hauled into the police department for questioning. The showdown between the superintendent(Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and the head boss Hon Sam(Eric Tsang Chi-wai) further serves to highlight the rivalry between the two groups. Another gem of a scene that is different from the American version was a scene where Tony Leung’s character, Yan, and his Mafia friend Keung(Chapman To Man-Chat) escape in the gun battle of the second act. In this scene the two share an intimate moment of brotherhood among thieves before the unknowing Keung dies from a gunshot wound. This scene not only is very poignant, but serves to emphasize the deep emotional entanglement between Yan and his fellow mobsters. An aspect only alluded to in The Departed with regards to Billy Costigan’s character.

There is one similarity that really stuck out to me. In The Departed, Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam really kicked ass. His obnoxious attitude and the “hand on his hip” acting was quite a knockout. It is interesting to note that in Infernal Affairs the actor who plays the corresponding character of Inspector Cheung, Chapman To Man-Chat, also acts many of his scenes with “hand on his hip” acting technique. Clearly Mark Wahlberg is an awesome actor in that he knew what was right for the character and the scene and wasn’t afraid to borrow from genius.

All in all, Infernal Affairs is an awesome movie. While similar to The Departed, it also has it’s own unique story aspects and stylistic approach to telling the story with an emphasis on the overall character dynamics rather than individual character arcs.

If you liked this movie you might also like:

The Departed, Hard Boiled, In The Mood For Love, 2046, Bullet in the Head.

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