The Piano Teacher (Pianiste, La) (2001)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 9-Dec-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Isabelle Huppert
Featurette-The Post Synchronisation Process
Theatrical Trailer-2
Trailer-Satin Rouge; The Closet; The Kid Stays In The Picture
Trailer-Russian Ark; Swing
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 125:08 (Case: 130)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Michael Haneke
Wega Film
Madman Entertainment
Starring Isabelle Huppert
Benoit Magimel
Annie Girardot
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Erika (Isabelle Huppert) is a French piano teacher at the Vienna Conservatory in Austria. At a recital she meets the young, talented and attractive Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel). Their meeting kicks off an obsessive and counter-obsessive sexual relationship delving into perverse sexuality and extraordinary mind games based on humiliation and abuse.

    The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste) is a very twisted film, and one of the very few movies I can say definitely deserves its R-rating. There is explicit pornography, sexual violence and one utterly horrifying scene of self-inflicted genital mutilation that is one of the few scenes in film that has ever come close to making me nauseous. With all of this played against the clinical passions of musical artistry there is a clash of realities so abrupt and so sudden that it is all the more shocking.

    Adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by Elfriede Jelenik of the same name, and directed with skilled craftsmanship by Michael Haneke, this is a seriously intense movie which surpasses the levels of human debauchery explored in films by Larry Clark and David Cronenberg. The only film that I can think of that even comes close is the uncut version of Tim Roth’s The War Zone.

    Despite the use of actual sex on film here, this is really high art based in sexuality, not mere pornography. This film is many things, but you could not belittle it as such in order to vilify it. The acting by Huppert is truly superb, and you believe her character every step of the way (much as, sometimes, you’d rather not). Her young student Magimel is also impressive, although certainly dwarfed by Huppert’s experience and talent and sheer onscreen presence. Perhaps that is as it should be, given the nature of the story.

    The Piano Teacher is a piece of cinematic high art for the intelligent and educated cinema goer that pushes boundaries as La Haine did, but in a different direction. Sick, perverted and borderline traumatising, it is still definitely worth seeing, although I think you need to be in the right kind of mood and also the right kind of person to really appreciate this. Do not take your girlfriend – this is one show likely to quell romantic desires the way that looking at graphic imagery of sexually transmitted disease will.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    Presented in 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced, this is close to the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

    The quality of the picture is reasonably good. It does suffer from some quite noticeable grain and is perhaps also a little soft. This culminates in some posterization on facial close ups. A rather noticeable instance of this is at 70:26, with an even worse occurrence at 121:48 - 121:51.

    Shadow detail is acceptable, but the early sequence between Erika and her domineering mother in the shadowy bedroom is very murky.

    Colours are not bad, but not intense in the way that Hollywood films of late have that certain vibrancy which makes the movie glow off the screen. However, much of this film is set in drab colours, everybody is dressed in autumnal hues and the cinematography focusses on the white walls of the teaching rooms, the white and black keys of the pianos, and the grey concrete of the streets of Vienna.

    MPEG artefacts are fairly minimal, with the above posterization being the worst. There was little in the way of film-to-video artefacts other than this, but the graininess also results in some slight low-level noise in the background.

    There is nothing very distracting in the way of film artefacts.

    The subtitles are available in English only. They are yellow with black borders and are clear and easy to read at all times.

    This is a dual-layered disc, but I have watched it several times now and cannot spot the dual layer pause. It is either so subtle that I keep missing it, or it is in between the film and the special features.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The only soundtrack available is a French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track.

    The dialogue was clear enough, as French goes, however, many of the cast were Austrian and their lines, spoken in German judging by the lip movements, have been overdubbed in French. This creates obvious audio sync issues as a result. At the recital where Erika meets Walter, I think they are the only French speaking people, as there are lots of other people whose lip movements do not match up with what is being said. The mother of one of Erika’s other students is also Austrian and her lines are overdubbed rather obviously.

    There is no score here at all, the credits being black and silent so that when the piano music punctuates the stillness you are keenly aware of its beauty. There are plenty of well known piano solo pieces here, mostly by Schubert who is Erika’s most beloved composer.

    I noticed one audio glitch – a brief pop of static at 20:05.

    The surround presence is not overwhelming, but you are aware of it in the odd scenes with crowds or traffic racing by. There were some good directional cues across the front of the soundfield as well.

    Subwoofer use was minimal as this film is almost entirely dialogue driven.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    All menus are presented in 1.78:1, 16x9 enhanced. The main menu has a 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack.

Selected Audio Commentary by Isabelle Huppert (Actress)

    Presented in 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo, this is a selective audio commentary over seven scenes of the film. Huppert speaks in French so thankfully it is also subtitled.

Michael Haneke (Director) Interview (24:52)

    Presented in 1.33:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo, this is a fairly in depth discussion with the director of the movie who also adapted the film from the novel. It is quite informative and gives a good insight into the movie that he was trying to make and where it differed from the book. It is in French and subtitled.

Elfriede Jelinek (Writer) Interview (10:26)

    Also presented in 1.33:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo, this is a very personal interview with the writer of the semi-autobiographical novel on which this film was based. The author is Austrian and so she speaks in German, but thankfully this is subtitled as my German is a little rusty and most people don’t speak the language.

Behind The Scenes - “The Post Synchronisation Process” (18:56)

    Presented in 1.66:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo, this is a look at some post-production overdubbing to get the lines in timing with the music and the edits so that Huppert’s monologue on the frostiness of Schubert and his quasi-impressionism makes sense.

English Theatrical Trailer - “The Piano Teacher” (2:27)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo, this is a reasonably good trailer.

French Theatrical Trailer - “The Piano Teacher” (1:37)

    Presented in 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo, this is another good trailer.

Theatrical Trailer - “Satin Rouge” (1:37)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

Theatrical Trailer - “The Closet” (1:17)

    Presented in 1.33:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

Theatrical Trailer - “The Kid Stays In The Picture” (1:30)

    Presented in 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

Theatrical Trailer - “Russian Ark” (2:11)

    Presented in 1.85:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

Theatrical Trailer - “Swing” (1:31)

    Presented in 1.66:1, non-16x9 enhanced, 2.0 Dolby Stereo.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 release of this disc comes in both R-rated and Unrated versions. As yet, there seems to be no information published that discerns the difference between the two, but I would suggest that the US Unrated version is the same as the R-rated R4 release, and the US R-rated version has been trimmed of certain sexually explicit scenes.

    Although I cannot confirm it, I would also suggest from my viewing that the R4 release is indeed the uncut version, which is labelled as the Unrated version in R1. While the Australian OFLC has deplorably banned the new Larry Clark film Ken Park for reasons of explicit sexual content, the office is – generally speaking – fairly liberally-minded on issues of sexuality and graphic sex on film, and not usually as repressive as the MPAA. Being very anti-censorship myself, it is good to know that this one made it through, and I only hope that the OFLC will reconsider on Ken Park.

    The R2 German release has a German 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, filmographies for the principal cast, TV-Spots, a making-of featurette and interviews with cast and crew.

    Given all of this, I would go for the R4 release: it has the original audio, most of the special features of the R2 release as well


    The Piano Teacher is a seriously intense film about sexual obsession, passion and repression. Sexually graphic and very twisted, I highly recommend it.

    The video is good, if a little soft at times.

    The sound is good but not great. However, I think it is the right feel for the artistic vision Haneke was after.

    The extras were pretty good inasmuch as they added a fair bit to the understanding of the movie.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RV31A-S, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko 28" (16x9). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationMarantz SR7000
SpeakersEnergy - Front, Rear, Centre & Subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)
Web Wombat - James A

Comments (Add) NONE