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The Piano Teacher, Directed by Michael Haneke

La Pianiste, Arte, August 31, 2001 (France)

Screenplay: Michael Haneke, based on the novel by Elfriede Jelinek

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Annie Girardot, and Benoît Magimel

Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert):
Do I disgust you?

For some, the progression goes something like this. It starts with a crash. They are like aliens crashing to earth. Gasping at the breath of life, the newborn blinks in the face of piercing light. It is the first of a million shattered flashes to follow as years flicker in a burst of abandoned moments.

Impossibly vulnerable and helplessly alive, the baby quickly learns the importance of holding on, always holding on, while simultaneously cultivating a fear of letting go. Next comes the falling. First steps, falling, growing up, falling. Learning to ride a bike, another spill. Battered and bruised, the boy or girl gets back up before falling back down again. The cycle continues and somehow the falling gets easier. It is taking the leap—the conscious leap—that proves more difficult for some with each passing stumble.

Fear takes over, leaving the broken on the wrong side of an ever-expanding divide. They are the ones that can’t let go again, not this time. To pretend that it won’t end the same—equal parts failure and pain—is pointless. The trap is set. Holding on for dear life, the child in the adult and the adult in the child is finally and at last stuck in a crossroads. Maturation ceases. The opportunity to shed the skin of infancy once and for all disappears inside a hazy, tragic limbo that is neither sympathetic nor unsympathetic. It just is, as limbos tend to be.

Lost in this strange netherland is any hope that the natural progression of things will lend the story a happy ending. The journey that started in the security of a caregiver’s protective arms is derailed from a path that had the potential to lead into the tender passion of a lover’s waiting embrace.

Walter Klemmer (Benoît Magimel): You know, love isn’t everything.

Maybe. Maybe not.