DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of The Piano Teacher, Food of Love, The Page Turner

Title:  The Piano Teacher

Release Date:  2002

Nationality and Language:  France and Germany; in French

Running time: 130 Minutes

MPAA Rating: (NC-17)

Distributor and Production Company:  Das Kino; KL2; Studio Canal France

Director; Writer: Michael Haneke


Cast:  Isabelle Huppert, Benoit Migamel, Annie Giradot


Relevance to HPPUB site:


Once again, mainstream American film industry, even independent film, has trouble with material as daring as this. A middle-aged spinster piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) tries to install old-fashioned moral values in her pupils, until she meets a dashing young competitor Walter, played by the upcoming Benoit Migamel, who presents himself as another male heartthrob. His talents are multiple: besides music, he dabbles in computer engineering and ice hockey, all almost professionally.  When he applies to become her student, he presents an ambitious program including Schoenberg, Schubert and Liszt. Now, he really does play Schoenberg as an opulent post-romantic composer and makes atonal writing sound lush. She doubts how anyone can dabble in so many areas and be serious enough to make music his life’s work.  She seems particularly focused on Schubert, whom she says composes in “screams and whispers.” With an even younger, apparently teenage male pupil she gets tough after she “catches” him with friends looking at dirty magazines—well the inner voices in his Bach really do sound muddy. The musicology in this film and the precise discussions of piano technique are astonishing.

But she goes down the path of her own frigidity, descending into sado-masochism. Perhaps the “relationship” with Walter is “predictable.”  But the test is, will this superman be good or evil? His character seems to fall apart, from energetic and protective domination to bordering on brutality, when she “cock teases” him one time too many.  This film is very graphic in a few places, but the treatment rings all too true.

(This film should not be confused with Jane Campion’s “The Piano” from New Zealand a few years back.)

Food of Love (2002, TLA, dir. Ventura Pons,  novella "The Page Turner" by David Leavitt,112 min, Spain, R) is from a Spanish director, in English, set in both San Francisco and Barcelona. Paul Porterfield (Kevin Bishop) is a page turner for chamber piano player Richard Kennington (Paul Rhys). Paul is just turning 18, and Richard is entering middle age. Early they show a concert where Richard plays Brahms and Schubert. The film takes a plot leap of a second city, when Richard invites Paul to come and up to his hotel room. Richard starts with a back rub (there is a T-shirt) but pretty soon gets the relationship started. But Paul has his own career to think about and wants to go to Julliard. His mother (Juliet Stevenson) in the meantime is lamenting her divorce and wondering about Richard. Will Paul have enough talent? He gets to New York and hooks up with Richard's manager Joseph Mansourian (Alan Courdenan), goes to his apartment and sees a huge CD and record collection, like mine. (Multiple copies of the Mahler 5th, with its inverted Beethoven-like motive in c# minor).  The manager becomes "invasive" (to harpsichord music of Scarlatti) harand that is actually the most erotic scene in the movie. At Julliard, Paul sees other students who are more talented and is confronted by the staff, which does tell him he could become an accompanist. The movie goes into round robin format, with one funny discussion about safe sex among the mothers.  Paul's Mother tracks him down in New York and barges in, unannounced, with a plot development that reminds one of Paul Donnelly's play "Whole Against the Sky."

The DVD features shots of filming the movie (constant makeup being applied) and interviews with the director and actors. Kevin Bishop's natural accent is very British, and his acting, and talking with a California voice in the movie is quite convincing. The director playfully calls the older pianist and manager "predators" (though "never aggressive") (the character is always 18 -- and this was 2002, well before today's paranoia and witch hunts) and indeed Mansourian, in the intimate apartment scene, says things like "nice musculature," "let me see what you look like" and "beautiful boy," where Paul often dutifully says "Thank you."

The Page Turner ("La Tourneuse de pages", 2007, Tartan / Diaphana, dir. Denis Dercourt, wr. with Jacques Sotty, 85 min, R, France), seemingly unrelated to the novella above, is a revenge tale about a piano page turner, apparently unrelated to the novella mentioned above. At age 10, Melanie Prouvost, a butcher's daughter, is auditioning for a piano scholarship by playing a Bach Prelude (somewhat perfunctorily) and distracted when the selection jury president Ariane Fouchecourt (Catherine Frot) allows an interruption. She gets stage fright and is devastated and gives up piano. Ten years later she, a young adult (Deborah Francois) becomes a baby sitter for Ariane's ten year old Tristan (Antoine Martynciow). Ariane does not recognize her at first and then develops a lesbian attraction, and invites her to become her page turner as she plays for a piano trio. Intrigue builds up; the cellist makes a pass and she stabs him in the foot. The she plots Ariane's demise. The music (Schubert and Shostakovich) is stunning.   


Related reviews: The Piano, The Pianist, The Piano Tuner, Taking Sides   play Whole Against the Sky      Eating Out

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