Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
A European family who plan on escaping to Australia, seem caught up in their daily routine, only troubled by minor incidents. However, behind their apparent calm and repetitive existence, they are actually planning something sinister.
A 14-year-old video enthusiast is so caught up in film fantasy that he can no longer relate to the real world, to such an extent that he commits murder and records an on-camera confession for his parents.
Erika Kohut is a pianist, teaching music. Schubert and Schumann are her forte, but she's not quite at concert level. She's approaching middle age, living with her mother who is domineering then submissive; Erika is a victim then combative. With her students she is severe. She visits a sex shop to watch DVDs; she walks a drive-in theater to stare at couples having sex. Walter is a self-assured student with some musical talent; he auditions for her class and is forthright in his attraction to her. She responds coldly then demands he let her lead. Next she changes the game with a letter, inviting him into her fantasies. How will he respond; how does sex have power over our other faculties? Written by
To be honest I had to go have a stiff drink after this film; I felt drained and my shoulders were knotted. I also had to talk the whole thing out with the friend I saw it with for a good half hour. Whatever else this movie is, it's not dull - you have to have respect for anything that produces such a visceral reaction, even if you couldn't claim to have 'enjoyed' the experience. (Anyone else I've talked to who's seen it has responded in much the same way.)
The reason the film is so powerful is not simply because it deals with unpalatable subject-matter like sado-masochism and violently dysfunctional relationships - that on its own would leave no defence against a charge of exploitation. It packs a punch because whatever her deeply ingrained character flaws, however reprehensible her behaviour (and at one point that's VERY), the piano teacher Erika always retains your sympathy - you never forget the type of influences which might have made her what she is, while scenes as subtle as the one where she walks down a street of shoppers, being casually bumped into without apology, remind you of her utter isolation. Isabelle Huppert's performance is as brilliant as it is uncomfortable and I can't even imagine how she might have wound down after a day's filming.
Appalling, compelling, horribly funny at times, but ultimately deeply despairing look at how people damage each other. View with caution.
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