✯✯✯ Erika Kohut Analysis

Saturday, June 12, 2021 12:48:13 PM

Erika Kohut Analysis



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Heinz Kohut - Reflections on Empathy

His implication is that, confronted by the intolerable, the audience desperately seeks something to lighten the mood. There are many scenes in The Piano Teacher that provoke such reactions. The Austrian director seems to revel in prompting viewers to worry about their own behaviour as much as the film characters'. Why do we giggle when Huppert's character hands her lover a note detailing her masochistic sexual demands? For a creator of such disturbing films, Haneke, 58, is unexpectedly light-hearted. He sits on the terrace of his hotel at Cannes, giggling his replies through his grey beard. One can't imagine this man making Benny's Video , in which a boy who has watched a video of a pig being slaughtered films himself committing murder. Nor Funny Games , a film in which a family are tortured, then killed in their own holiday chalet.

Nor Code Unknown, starring Juliette Binoche as a Parisian actor who, in a cringe-making moment, is roughed up on a train while the spectators in her carriage do nothing to help. Nor The Piano Teacher - his best yet. In all his films, Haneke makes the viewer's role problematic, even perverse. The Piano Teacher is based on the autobiographical novel of Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek, a misanthropic polemicist. Like the central character in Haneke's film, Jelinek was brought up by a tyrannical, middle-class Catholic mother who wanted her to become a concert pianist.

Like the character, too, Jelinek's father died in a psychiatric institution. But while Jelinek's novel is a denunciation of Austria's petit bourgeois musical culture and a raging moral ity tale of a repressed Austrian woman, Haneke's adaptation strives to say nothing particular about his home country. In the film he deals with themes of voyeurism, sadomasochism and cultural oppression in a manner that is much less judgmental. It's easy for the spectator to take these elements that should disturb them and that I want them to grapple with andsay, 'I don't want to deal with them - they don't concern me.

That said, Viennese piano music is everywhere in the film - especially Schubert's late piano sonatas. So it's no surprise to learn that Haneke is a music lover, who gives his films a musical structure. Usually music is used to hide a film's problems. Here music becomes a part of the film itself. Some of the pieces are specified in the novel itself - Bach's double concerto for two klaviers for instance. In the novel Erika Kohut says her two favourite composers are Schubert and Schumann, but it was up to me to choose which pieces to use. In The Piano Teacher, Erika Kohut is a piano teacher in her early forties who not only still lives with her mother a great performance by Annie Girardot but also shares the same bedroom.

Her relationship with her mother is disturbing - they fight throughout - and she behaves maliciously - placing broken glass in a rival's coat pocket. But her sexuality is the most problematic thing in the film. She visits porn cinemas and peep shows and her repressed sexuality is a mixture of morbid voyeurism and masochistic self-mutilation. In the novel Jelinek insists on a moral, even feminist, dimension to Kohut's story, but Haneke's film does not proselytise. And, remarkably, we feel great sym pathy for Erika. This is partly because Haneke refuses to make his characters either good or bad.

So while we see Kohut as deranged and disturbed, we also see that she suffers. When she cannot control him or get what she wants, Erika devolves into a desperate mess, begging and pleading, offering herself to him entirely -- even confessing that she loves him when she's been so adamant that she feels nothing at all. When we are rejected by the person we love, there is an inclination to react desperately -- we would do anything to keep that person around, even if it means forsaking our own desires and happiness in some measure.

We often don't act on this desperate impulse because we have dignity, because we respect the desires of others, and because we can function autonomously, however sad and heartbroken we might be. Time heals all wounds. But not for Erika. She's still convinced -- and believes -- that Walter is the one for her and that somewhere between what she wants and what he wants is togetherness. His arrogant demeanor has reduced her to little more than a clamoring teenage girl, and she's mistaken his cockiness, believing him to be the dominant presence she needs in order to function. No longer is this about working out her issues with control through sex -- now Walter is on a pedestal, and he's not coming down.

And though he's happy to get what he wants from her, there's something about Erika's desires that seeps into Walter's psyche. In the wrong hands, these ideas of sexual dominance are perverted, and someone like Walter doesn't understand that Erika's desires are rooted in her need to feel as though she's in control, and that all acts must be consensual in order for them to be effective. As Erika's psyche spirals further into the implacable darkness, so does Walter, who is suddenly compelled to grant her wish. But the end result is anything but sexual, and without Erika's consent, the final act between them is disheartening and grotesque.

Erika lays on the ground, face bloodied and bruised, as still as a corpse, as Walter rapes her and uses her body. This is not how it was supposed to be, by any means. And yet to Walter, this is Erika's fault. This is what she asked for, what she wanted, and her letter clearly told him that if she begged for him to stop, he should proceed with more force. The only way Erika has ever known love is through the dominance of her mother, and the only way Walter has ever known love is through false proclamations to get young women into bed.

The final act between the two of them is cold and blunt -- Walter gets what he always wanted, and Erika is left even more confused than she was before. This woman, in a state of arrested development, now believes that these perverted, confused and finally violent sexual exchanges between the two of them are meaningful. And even though he's hurt her in ways that are unimaginable, Erika is unable to disentangle the threads of sex, shame and abuse.

The idea that perhaps what we fantasize about isn't always what we want once we get it, that the fantasy is more potent than the reality, is something that escapes her, as she now believes that she got exactly what she wanted -- even worse, what she deserved. This is how the victim learns to blame herself. And when Walter shows up to her recital and dismisses her so cavalierly, Erika takes the same approach to calmly removing a knife from her purse and stabbing her chest, with a stone face that refuses to betray her heart. It's the ultimate fuck-you act of defiance -- he may never know she's hurt herself, but the act of stabbing her chest with such bluntness the same blunt approach used by Walter when he assaulted her is a grand gesture.

It's a way of taking her agency back, of showing him and herself how deeply she's hurt, and of cauterizing the internal wound with an external one, its execution equally drastic in comparison to the sexual and violent exchanges between them. With one brief, violent motion, Erika has put an end to their misshapen relationship and had the final word. How can you be a victim when you're assaulting yourself? This year, the Austrian master of misery is crashing your holiday party. And what Walter wants and what Erika wants are two very different things.

Revisiting Michael Haneke's theatre of cruelty. Peak TV just keeps on peakin'.

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