The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher is a gut-wrenching character study of its titular heroine (Isabelle Huppert, superb as usual), a sexually repressed woman who treats her piano students with the utmost contempt, has a hostile, unresolved relationship with her live-in mother (Annie Girardot), and, most notably, has a fondness for some seriously sketchy masochism. If you think that sounds like fun, try to sit through an early scene in which Huppert sits on the edge of a bathtub and slowly slices up her private parts with a razor blade. Yikes!

The Piano Teacher is a queasy, uncomfortable film. But it fascinates like a highway accident. Huppert is remarkable, as is Benoit Magimel as the young man who falls in love with her – and whose own levels of sadism are tested, explored, and never fully understood. If the film doesn't turn you off sex entirely, you can at least bear witness to one of the most complicated male-female relationships to hit the big screen in recent years. I still don't know if the story purports to say anything about human relationships beyond this one severely dysfunctional woman, though.