The Piano Teacher (film)

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The Piano Teacher
Theatrical release poster
FrenchLa Pianiste
Directed byMichael Haneke
Screenplay byMichael Haneke
Based onThe Piano Teacher
by Elfriede Jelinek
Produced byVeit Heiduschka
CinematographyChristian Berger
Edited by
Music byMartin Achenbach[1]
Distributed by
  • MK2 Diffusion (France)
  • Filmladen (Austria)[2]
Release dates
  • 14 May 2001 (2001-05-14) (Cannes)
  • 5 September 2001 (2001-09-05) (France)
  • 16 November 2001 (2001-11-16) (Austria)
Running time
131 minutes[3]
  • France
  • Austria
  • French
  • German
Budget€5.3 million[4]
($6.2 million)
Box office$6.8 million[5]

The Piano Teacher (French: La Pianiste, lit.'The Pianist') is a 2001 erotic psychological drama film written and directed by Michael Haneke, based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Elfriede Jelinek. It tells the story of an unmarried piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) at a Vienna conservatory, living with her mother (Annie Girardot) in a state of emotional and sexual disequilibrium, who enters into a sadomasochistic relationship with her student (Benoît Magimel). A co-production between France and Austria, Haneke was given the opportunity to direct after previous attempts to adapt the novel by filmmakers Valie Export and Paulus Manker collapsed for financial reasons.

At the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, it won the Grand Prix, and the two leads, Huppert and Magimel, won Best Actress and Best Actor. It went on to receive positive reviews and other awards and nominations.


Erika Kohut is a piano professor in her late thirties at the Vienna Music Conservatory who resides in an apartment with her domineering elderly mother. Her late father had been a longstanding resident in a psychiatric asylum. Despite Erika's aloof and assured façade, she is a woman whose sexual repression and loneliness are manifested in her paraphilia, including voyeurism, sadomasochistic fetishes, and self-mutilation.

At a recital hosted by the Blonskij couple, Erika meets Walter Klemmer, a young aspiring engineer who also plays piano, and who expresses admiration of her talent for classical music. The two share an appreciation for composers Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert, and he attempts to apply to the conservatory to be her pupil. His audition impresses the other professors, but Erika, though visibly moved by his playing, votes against him; she cites his divergent interpretation of Schubert's Andantino, and questions his motivations. Despite this, Walter is admitted as Erika's pupil. Meanwhile, another pupil, Anna Schober, struggles with anxiety while pushed by her own ambitious mother. When Erika witnesses Anna and Walter socialising, she slips to an empty coatroom and smashes a glass, hiding the shards inside one of Anna's coat pockets. This cuts Anna's right hand, preventing her from playing at the forthcoming jubilee concert.

Walter pursues Erika into a lavatory after she secretly injured Anna. Walter passionately kisses Erika, and she responds by repeatedly humiliating and frustrating him. She proceeds to give him a handjob before performing fellatio on him, but abruptly stops when he does not abide by her orders to be silent and to look at her and not to touch her. She tells him she will write him a letter regarding their next meeting. Later at the conservatory, Erika feigns sympathy for Anna's mother, with Erika saying only she can substitute for Anna in the upcoming school concert at such short notice.

Walter is increasingly insistent in his desire to initiate a sexual relationship with Erika, but Erika is only willing if he will satisfy her masochistic fantasies. She gives him the letter indicating acts she will consent to. He follows her home and reads the letter in her bedroom, but the list repulses him and he leaves. Later that night, Erika's mother is berating her while they lay in bed together for letting Walter in her bedroom in the middle of the night, when Erika suddenly begins kissing and groping her mother. Her mother resists and tells Erika she is unwell.

Erika finds Walter at an ice rink after his hockey practice to apologise. She begins to subjugate herself to him in a janitorial closet. Walter says he loves her and they begin to have sex, but Erika is unable to, and vomits while performing fellatio. Later that night, Walter arrives at Erika's apartment and attacks her in the fashion described in her letter. He locks her mother away in her bedroom before proceeding to beat and rape Erika, despite her pleas for him to stop.

The next day, Erika brings a large kitchen knife to the concert where she is scheduled to substitute for Anna. When Walter arrives, he enters cheerfully, laughing with his family, and flippantly greets her. Moments before the concert is due to start, a distraught Erika calmly stabs herself in the shoulder with the kitchen knife and exits the concert hall into the street.




Burberry trench coats were selected for costumes.

The film is based on the 1983 novel The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek,[6] who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature.[7] Director Michael Haneke read The Piano Teacher when it was published and aspired to adapt it to transition from making television films to cinema. However, Haneke learned Jelinek and Valie Export had already adapted a screenplay, a project aborted due to lack of investment.[8] Jelinek later abandoned hope for a film version before selling the rights to Paulus Manker, who asked Haneke to adapt the screenplay, though Haneke would not be the director. Manker did not secure a budget, so the producer asked Haneke to direct.[8]

Haneke agreed to take over the directorial helm, though the screenplay had been written with Manker's direction in mind, only if Isabelle Huppert was the star.[8] Haneke also reorganised the novel's story, and developed the characters of Anna Schober and her mother to mirror the Kohutsc mother–daughter relationship at a past stage.[8] In pre-production, Haneke followed Jelinek's choices in costumes, including pleated skirts and Burberry trench coats common in Vienna conservatories.[8]


Haneke had previously reached out to Huppert to star in his film Funny Games (1997), which she passed on for another professional conflict. When Haneke told her he would not direct The Piano Teacher without her, Huppert skimmed the screenplay and realized its potential.[9] She said she had studied piano as a child, quitting when she was 15, but began playing again for the film.[9] Eva Green has an uncredited role as one of Walter's friends.


Filming began on 21 August 2000 and ended on 28 October 2000.

For the scene in which Erika cuts herself in the bathtub, tubes and a pump were used for the false blood, which the props artist had to conceal from the camera under Huppert.[8] Huppert also wore a blood bag under her clothing for the self-stabbing scene, taken from the novel.[8] Benoît Magimel studied piano during filming to convincingly simulate his playing scenes at the end of production, while the music is playback.[8] Susanne Lothar performed in German, but her lines were dubbed over with French in co-production.[8]


Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 73% of 89 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 7/10. The website's consensus reads: "Though it makes for rather unpleasant viewing, The Piano Teacher is a riveting and powerful psychosexual drama."[10] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 79 out of 100, based on 26 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[11]

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times awarded it three and a half stars, citing Huppert's confidence, writing on hints of revenge against The Mother character and defending the ending, saying "with a film like this any conventional ending would be a cop-out".[12] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian credited Haneke for aptitude in creating "nerve-jangling disquiet" and Huppert for "the performance of her career".[13] David Denby of The New Yorker praised the film as "audaciously brilliant".[14]

In 2017, Los Angeles Times' critic Justin Chang recalled The Piano Teacher as Huppert's best work in a Haneke film, and "a major achievement in a disturbingly minor key".[15] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle described Huppert as "a rich incarnation of a woman we might see on the street and never guess that she contains fires, earthquakes and infernos", comparing it to her performance in the 2016 film Elle.[16]


The Piano Teacher won awards on the European circuit, most notably the Grand Prix at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, with the two leads, Huppert and Magimel, winning Best Actress and Best Actor. The film was Austria's submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it was not nominated.[17]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
British Academy Film Awards 24 February 2002 Best Film Not in the English Language Michael Haneke Nominated [18]
Cannes Film Festival 14–25 May 2001 Palme d'Or Nominated [19]
Grand Prix Won
Best Actor Benoît Magimel Won
Best Actress Isabelle Huppert Won
César Awards 2 March 2002 Best Actress Nominated [20]
Best Supporting Actress Annie Girardot Won [21]
European Film Awards 1 December 2001 Best Film Michael Haneke Nominated [22]
Best Screenwriter Nominated
Best Actress Isabelle Huppert Won
Golden Eagle Award 25 January 2003 Best Foreign Language Film Michael Haneke Nominated [23]
Independent Spirit Awards 22 March 2002 Best Foreign Film Nominated [24]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association 15 December 2002 Best Actress Isabelle Huppert Runner-up [25]
National Society of Film Critics 4 January 2003 Best Actress Runner-up [26]
San Francisco Film Critics Circle 17 December 2002 Best Actress Won [27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Holden, Stephen (29 March 2002). "The Piano Teacher (2001) – FILM REVIEW; Kinky and Cruel Goings-On in the Conservatory". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 December 2015. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  2. ^ "The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste)". Cineuropa. Retrieved 25 March 2024.
  3. ^ "The Piano TeacherLa Pianiste (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 3 October 2001. Archived from the original on 14 March 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  4. ^ "La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher) (2001)". JP Box-Office (in French).
  5. ^ "The Piano Teacher (2001)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 25 March 2024.
  6. ^ Naqvi, Fatima; Kone, Christophe (2010). "The Key to Voyeurism: Haneke's Adaptation of Jelinek's The Piano Teacher". On Michael Haneke. Wayne State University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0814336991.
  7. ^ Ezard, John (8 October 2004). "Austrian writer wary at scooping Nobel prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Haneke, Michael (2017). Viennese Obscenities: Michael Haneke on The Piano Teacher. The Piano Teacher (Blu-ray). The Criterion Collection.
  9. ^ a b Huppert, Isabelle (2017). The Actor's Quest: Isabelle Huppert on The Piano Teacher. The Piano Teacher (Blu-ray). The Criterion Collection.
  10. ^ "The Piano Teacher". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 8 September 2023.
  11. ^ "The Piano Teacher". Metacritic. Retrieved 8 September 2023.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (26 April 2002). "The Piano Teacher". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 10 January 2018 – via
  13. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (9 November 2001). "The Piano Teacher". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  14. ^ Denby, David (1 April 2002). "Play It Again". The New Yorker. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  15. ^ Chang, Justin (20 September 2017). "Criterion revives a chilling tune with Michael Haneke's 'The Piano Teacher'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  16. ^ LaSalle, Mick (20 December 2017). "DVD Review: 'The Piano Teacher'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  17. ^ Feiwell, Jill (19 November 2001). "51 countries bid for Oscar". Variety. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  18. ^ "Bafta Award Nominees 2002". The Daily Telegraph. 28 January 2002. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  19. ^ "The Piano Teacher". Cannes Film Festival. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012. Retrieved 17 October 2009.
  20. ^ "Prix et nominations : César 2002". AlloCiné (in French). Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  21. ^ Ciminelli, David (28 February 2011). "French Film Star Annie Girardot Dies". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  22. ^ "The Piano Teacher". European Film Academy. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  23. ^ Золотой Орел 2002 [Golden Eagle 2002]. (in Russian). Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  24. ^ "Far From Heaven nominated for five Independent Spirit Awards (7184)". The Advocate. 12 December 2002. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  25. ^ King, Susan (15 December 2002). "L.A. Film Critics Pick 'Schmidt' as Year's Best Film". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 30 November 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  26. ^ Goodridge, Mike (5 January 2003). "The Pianist sweeps National Society Of Film Critics awards". Screen Daily. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  27. ^ "2002 San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards". San Francisco Film Critics Circle. 17 December 2002. Archived from the original on 23 March 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2018.

External links[edit]