The Piano Teacher


Austria | 1983 | available in English and Indonesian | Movie available

A somewhat failed musical prodigy, the strict and rigid Erika Kohut taught piano at the prestigious Vienna Conservatory during the day and trawls the porn districts by night. Living (and still sleeping in one bed) with her domineering mother, who’s old enough to be her grandmother, her life has been congenitally forced along her Mother’s ideal.

Mother knows nothing about music, but she forces her child into its yoke. A fair if vindictive rivalry develops between mother and daughter, for the child soon realizes that she has outgrown her mother with regard to music. The daughter is the mother’s idol, and Mother demands only a tiny tribute: Erika’s life. Mother wants to utilize the child’s life herself.

ThePianoTeacherTightly bound and sexually-repressed Erika, likewise repulsed by her femaleness, harbours extreme fetishes and self-multilation. In this volatile love-hate relationship with her mother, enters Walter Klemmer, her youthful, ladies’ man student. Boasting her lack of feelings and yet timidly aware of her cluelessness, she attempts to wrench her life out of her mother’s through the younger student. Within this foreign area that’s unmanned by her inquisitioner and executioner, she pitilessly down-spirals, exposed in her impotent state.

The novel by Elfriede Jelinek is divided into two parts, written in fierce (some would say, agonizing) prose, with at times all-capitalisation emphasis mimicking harsh staccatos. The 2001 movie adapation by Michael Haneke (one of our favourite contemporary directors) starring Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel, mercillesly translates the rawness of the novel, winning the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes for Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert) and Best Actor (Benot Magimel).

The Indonesian version has been published by KPG, directly translated from the German version by Arpani Harun and edited by Ayu Utami. Like the English version, it retains the vehement, incisive prose.

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Founding director, c2o library & collabtive. Currently also working in Singapore as a Research Associate at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS). Opinions are hers, and do not represent/reflect her employer(s), institution(s), or anyone else with whom she may be remotely affiliated.

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