a coincidence between two stories
September 13, 2010, 4:33 pm
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Learning to Love:

Sometime in the first 20 minutes of Michael Haneke’s film La Pianiste, we learn that the perfectionist piano teacher Erika, played by Isabelle Huppert, sleeps in the same room as her mother.  Much further along, we find out that she is a regular at the live sex booth in a porn shop.  Shocking images, perhaps only at first:  the beautiful, accomplished piano teacher with a shameful home and inner life.  Haneke’s speciality:  truth masquerading as shock.  Or more accurately truth that we continue to pretend is an aberration and continue to allow to shock us.

Erika is like Norman Bates (from Psycho), only a little more socially acceptable.  Erika merely slept in her mother’s room; Bates embalmed his, and kept her in the upstairs room in a rocking chair.  The point is both moms controlled their children, and both children went far far into their adult lives allowing themselves to be controlled.  As a result of this control, Erika’s intimate life was reduced to watching other people have sex in booths and engaging boyfriends in sexual domination games.

There is an interesting side story in La Pianiste.  Erika has a student, a young girl, who has a neurotic and domineering mother, not unlike her own.  The teacher has a complex relationship with the girl and near the end we see her sneak into the concert hall’s cloak room, smash a drinking glass and put the shards in the young girl’s winter coat while she plays a recital in the hall.  After the recital, the girl badly injures her right hand on the glass shards.  It’s a malevolent act, and curiously it’s an act of salvation:  maybe this injury will set you back, she is saying, will alter your life course away from the one I took of perfectionism and isolation, will cause your mother to leave you be to live a normal life.

So, La Pianiste is about Erika’s attempt to form a real human bond with a lover.  It is a violent attempt, for she must confront and rebuke the control her mother and her own prolonged adolescence has over her.  Ah, the violence of family life.  Is it real or an aberration, a cheap trick used by a director to shock?

A Critical Coincidence:

The following quotation has nothing to do with the writing above.  It is Huppert’s description of what it means to be an actor.  She says to be beautiful, the story she has made about Erika and the story the director and writer have made must coincide.  Here is her description —

When you make a film, actually you make two films.  The director’s film is being made.  And the actor’s film or actress’s film is being made.  And the actress’s film is like a very intimate story that she tells to herself, which is within the director’s story.  And hopefully there is a coincidence between the two stories.  Ultimately, of course, it is the director’s film, but I think an actor always chases a very personal quest when he makes a film and very intimate and very secret and not invisible because I think it’s on screen, but it’s a whole personal fantasy, you know, that is not necessarily 100% according to the director’s fantasy itself, you know.   And I think that the mystery, the chemistry between an actress and a director is how these two personal fantasies make a coincidence, between the two of them, and it makes a film.

-Isabelle Huppert, interview, The Piano Teacher


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