The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher

Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Benoit Magimel
Runtime: 131 min.  Rating: R
Genre: Erotic Drama
Country: France, Austria
Grade: A-

 

 

Often, comparison is inevitable when watching movies. Famous these days is “50 Shades of Gray,” a movie about BDSM sex, but a decade earlier, a European auteur Micheal Haneke made a movie about a 40-ish female piano teacher whose sexual perversion makes Christian Gray look like a hack. But the comparison should end at the theme of BDSM. “The Piano Teacher” is an exceptional movie for its psychological acumen for its characters and its subtle depiction of her harrowing sexual perversion.

Magimel as Walter and Huppert as Ms. Kohut the Piano Teacher

From the first scene, the movie shocks us. A middle aged woman Erika Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) comes back from work to her apartment where her mother is waiting to bombard her with questions. The reason? She was home late. The mother treats her like she is still 11, and their confrontation verges on absolute violence. The daughter eventually ends up slapping her mother a few times. Soon, they make peace and lie down to sleep… on the same bed.

Walter dragging the mother out of sight

Erika is a character of a rare kind, unprecedented in any other movies: frigid, corrosive and never smiling, seemingly leading a monotone life interrupted only by her visit to a sex shop where she watches porn while holding a tissue soaked with semen by the previous patron to her nose. She visits an outdoor movie theater, spots a couple making love and pisses next to them while listening to their moans. The self-mutilation scene electrifies us with disgust and shudder.

Ms. Kohut taking out BDSM appendages.

One day, a prince on a white horse approaches her in the form of an handsome engineer student who has a knack for playing piano, especially Schubert. Eager for a random sexual encounter as any teenager can be, he is soon confounded by her wayward sexual daring and starts to resist her. She doesn’t want just a typical illicit affair between old and young. She wants something more. We as viewers wonder the origin and reasons for her perversion. Is she doing this out of contempt toward her mother? By being tied up, she seems to seek liberty. We are often curious about a variety with which sex tries to sell itself, but a case of truly twisted perversion seems to spring from deeper well than we can fathom. Erika Kohut harbors such a well.

Isabelle Hubbert is perfect for the role. Sympathy and BDSM do not usually go along, but in this movie, they are laced tight, mainly due to Hubbert’s expert portrayal of the character. She has won the fully deserved award for the part at Cannes.

Great music accompanies the movie throughout. If music is another language that can communicate something more primitive, more primal, the movie seems to confirm it by having the affair in the world of music in its backdrop. It makes us think about the relationship between sex and music. I remember the saying that art, sex, and violence usually go together. It seems to be true in this case.

 

The movie is based on the novel by Nobel prize winning author Elfride Jelinek. Not recommended for the weak-hearted, but such taboo subject is handled expertly by Haneke the master. The movie has won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes.

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Y Tu Mama Tambien

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Directed by Afonso Cuaron
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, Maribel Verdu
Runtime: 106 min.  Rating: R
Genre: Drama   Country: Mexico
Grade: A

Y Tu Mama Tambien is one of the greatest movie ever made about the youth coming to terms with the life itself. The titles translates “And Your Mama Too.” By the end of the movie, a keen viewer will know what that phrase refers to.

“Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea.”

Bernal as Julio and Luna as Tenoch

 

 

On the surface, it’s about two horny guys going on a road trip with an older woman. Their high-school life is just over, and what awaits them is an ennui of a long summer, but they hope to turn it into an adventure full of alcohol, sex, and drugs. And yes, they do get those, but they get a lot more. Much more than what they have bargained for. As Baudelaire has said, what they finds is an “oasis of horror in the desert of boredom.”

Two boys asking her to join their roadtrip.

Julio and Tenoch (played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna) belong to the different social rungs of a society, but they are still best friends. Although they have secrets that they want to conceal from each other, their friendship is tight. Meanwhile, Luisa (Maribel Verdu) learns that her husbands has been cheating, and seeking ostensible solace, she agrees to join the beach trip spontaneously planned by two boys. Thus the trip began, and life would never be same again.

Boys brag about their sexual experiences. But Luisa is older and knows more. The numbers don’t match; there are two boys and one woman. One boy lies in order to compromise for his jealousy, and the disquiet begins. What does it take to transition from boy to man? Their exuberance and sexual naiveté are funny, innocent, yet also fragile. An insight into adulthood is not realized through some serious incident or definitive events so common to many bildungsroman type of movies, but through a smutty road trip knotted with innuendos, quickies, and a menage-a-trois. Nothing much seems to happen but the suspense is persistent, the impact insidious and pervasive. Why?

“Who cares who you two fucked when you come that fast!”

 

 

 

First of all, the storytelling is meticulous. Multiple narrations trail the movie throughout, and through them, we not only learn about those three protagonists but also about the Mexico in its political unrest, the people in it, and humanity depicted in the mirror of epoch. The acting is superb, especially by Maribel Verdu, whose sharp features express a number of different emotions convincingly in many scenes. The cinematography is done aptly as well, framing the scenes of intense conversations taking place in desert, beach, and bars with long takes that somehow warns us that something will happen soon. In one particular scene, Luisa is talking on the pay phone, telling her husband she has left for good, sobbing, and juxtaposed to this image is Julio and Tenoch playing foosball, laughing and indulging without reserve, like children. The scene goes on for over a few minutes, and it felt like I was witnessing a montage of life that spans one end of the spectrum to the other, far end.

Y Tu Mama Tambien is a movie about youth, friendship, lies, jealousy, death, and even capitalism. It is a must-watch movie for anyone who has even slightest interest in knowing “what great movie is.” The director Cuaron is now world renowned for other movies (e.g. Children of Men, Gravity), but Y Tu Mama Tambian is difficult to be surpassed. No more explanation is necessary. Just watch it.

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Irreversible

Irreversible

Directed by Gaspar Noe
Starring: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel
Year: 2002
Genre: French Drama,  Rating: R
Grade: A –

The movie “Irreversible” shares a similar narrative gimmick with Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” which came out a year before “Irreversible.” Both movies depict scenes in reverse chronological order, and introduce us to ‘effects’ before ’causes.’ This ingenious yet quirky device works beautifully on both films but for different effects. If in Memento the device is used to analogously portray the fragmented memories of the protagonist and/or to enhance to mystery of the conflict, the same device has been used in “Irreversible” to accentuate the utter nihilistic inconsequences of our meaningless actions that sometimes brings catastrophic ends. Everything that is meant to happen is already written down and no one can escape the fate, the movie seems to convey. The future is already written, so why not begin from the future?

Marcus, Pierre, and Alex on the way to a party

Marcus and Pierre have a mission; they need to find a culprit who brutalized – both physically and sexually – Marcus’s girlfriend Alex, who’s in coma now. They find the culprit (or is he the one?) in a Gay Bar where everyone’s banging each other and pulverize his head until it looks like a smashed watermelon with a fire extinguisher. A few minutes before, they were asking around in a red light district where the culprit could be found. A few more minutes before, while walking out of the dance party, they spot Alex, blooded and unconscious on a stretcher. A little further in the past, Alex was walking through the underpass and was accosted by the rapist. Then it goes further back in the past, when all three of them were at the dance party where Marcus was high on drugs and hitting on every girl he sees, Pierre silently watching Alex in her skimpy dress, and Alex mad at Marcus’s childish behavior, announcing that she is leaving because of it. Further in the past, they have a conversation on the way to the party and we find out that before Alex was Marcus’s girlfriend, she was in a relationship with Pierre. There are more past-scenes.

Alex (Monica Belluci) dancing

“Irreversible” is a success for it capitalizes both the medium’s form and content to deliver the message. So, what is the message? The human misery steeped in abyss during the darkest nights of our souls. The movie redefines the common connotation of a “fateful day” . Plus, We feel that the movie would have been less effective if it has been shown in a linear fashion. Due to its long, single take of each scene (there are total 13),  it is supremely realistic.

Irreversible is dark in both tone and color, as the story mostly takes place in sinister dens such as whore-infested back alleys, gay fuck-club, and empty underpass at night where the infamous scene in which Monica Belluci gets anally raped for 15 minutes takes place. Many people are said to have walked out of the screening of this movie due to its unrestrained violence.

However, the director is in his sure control of our gaze, as his camera leads us in shivers and spins until it lays its focal point on the subject and dares us to absorb the scenes so eerie, brutal and intense. The atmosphere brightens a bit as it goes further past, but it also steps into the zone of cliche. The ending is somewhat unsatsifactory, at least for me. But overall, the movie is a triumphant act of audacity and storytelling, stretching the possibilities of what the cinema can do. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to encounter visceral movie experience. Oh, and Monica Belluci is stunningly beautiful and god-like in this movie.

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2666

26666

2666

By Roberto Bolano
Published in Spanish in 2004
Translated into English in 2008
Length: 898 pages
Genre: World Literature
Grade: A+

Epigram:

An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom

– Charles Baudelaire

* This review is casually and spontaneously written. In other words, it is rather a mere reflection of my admiration on this book.

The novel 2666 is best described as the allegorical figuration of hell, the delirious depiction of our evil nature, and the inevitable helplessness we are faced with against such nature. Before I say anything about this 898 pages-long masterpiece of a novel, I’ll borrow the words of the New York Review of Books writer Sarah Kerr in her writing about the author.

“No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them.”

“Well beyond his sometimes nomadic life, Roberto Bolaño was an exemplary literary rebel. To drag fiction toward the unknown he had to go there himself, and then invent a method with which to represent it. Since the unknown place was reality, the results of his work are multi-dimensional, in a way that runs ahead of a critic’s one-at-a-time powers of description. Highlight Bolaño’s conceptual play and you risk missing the sex and viscera in his work. Stress his ambition and his many references and you conjure up threats of exclusive high-modernist obscurity, or literature as a sterile game, when the truth is it’s hard to think of a writer who is less of a snob, or—in the double sense of exposing us to unsavory things and carrying seeds for the future—less sterile.”

Basically, she is saying that due to the sublimely complex nature of his work, critics’ every effort to succinctly describe his novels mostly ends in vain. I firmly agree with her opinion.

Here is another by Todd Shy, a writer from The News & Observer.

“2666 may be the first great novel of the twenty-first century… In disarmingly straightforward prose, Bolano measures the abyss. But he does this with such speed and daring that the book remains buoyed by an irresistible ecstasy… The thrill of 2666 resides in the sheer range and mobility of Bolano’s attention, but it is a disturbed, disarming thrill regardless. Bolano draws us along the perimeter of an abyss with such momentum it is hard to register the grimness of what we see… This is tragic exuberance, metaphysics at light speed–a book, at last, equal to the times.”

Yes, Bolano measures the abyss, and yes, his sheer range and mobility of his topics and narrative techniques are thrilling. But he is so much more than that, especially this novel 2666. The novel is encyclopedic in every sense of the word. Only a man who has truly “lived” a life can write such a novel. Ironically, he died right after completing 2666.

Then they talked about freedom and evil, about the highways of freedom where evil is like a Ferrari

The book is comprised of five parts.

1st part: Four literary scholars, whose interests converge on the reclusive German writer, a perennial Nobel prize nominee named Benno Von Archimboldi, occupy a center stage. These scholars come from four different European countries: France, Germany, Italy, and England. Their search for the author leads them to Mexican city called Santa Teresa (Ciudad Juarez). They are informed of the killings of girls in the city, but their sole aim (that of searching for Benno Von Archimboldi) does not spare them the time to mull over such a peripheral matter, at least for them.

2nd part: Chilean literary scholar named Oscar Amalfitano, who works at a university in Santa Teresa, is the main protagonist in this section. He acted as a guide for the four scholars in the first section, but the main conflict for him in this part occurs in his memory (his relationship with his ex-wife). Besides, he worries about his beautiful daughter, Rosa Amalfitano, due to the rampant femicide occurring in Santa Teresa. Also, he hangs a geometry book on the laundry rope and philosophize. A reader gets to encounter all the famous intellectuals ever existed in the Western world.

3rd part: A sports reporter nicknamed Fate is the protagonist here. He lives in the States, but in order to report on a boxing match, he travels to Mexico. He hears about the killings of the girls in Santa Teresa and wants to write an article about it. His boss does not consent to his wish.

4rd part: Unlike the previous parts, there is no single protagonist in this section. Majority of the narrative is comprised of police reports, of the brutal rape and killing of young Mexican women working in maquiladoras in Santa Teresa. Who the fuck is committing all these crimes? Police is ineffectual, people don’t give much shit, and women keep getting killed. Misogyny, along with blood, swiftly flows in men’s vein in Santa Teresa. A suspect (who is probably innocent, at least of those killings) is jailed. The most repeated phrase in this section is: “She had been anally and vaginally raped several times. The case was soon closed.” It is a wonder how this report-like narrative actually makes a compelling read, encapsulating the reader with miasma of horror.

5th part: This section tells of a life of Hans Reiter. It tells briefly of his parents, his birth, his youth, his war years, his life as a writer until he is over 80 and heading to Santa Teresa to look after his nephew, a last favor bestowed from his sister. He witnesses mass murders during his war years, changes his name after a 16th century painter, writes novels that captivates one publisher named Bubis, and embarks upon a solitary journey around the world.

Bolano once said, “know how to stick your head in the dark, know how to jump into the abyss, know that literature is basically a dangerous business.” For this novel, he stuck his head in the darkest part of the abyss, that of the killings of women in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico (Santa Teresa in the novel) in the late 20th century. In the novel, evil is never conspicuous; it always lies beneath the surface, insidiously creeping up to entrap us when we are less aware. How evil works is a mysterious business because even though we talk, discuss and seemingly do so much about it, it seems to proliferate more as the world ages.

But this novel is much more than the topic of evil. It’s about literature. About human relationship. About time. What it means to live. Due to the sheer size of the book, I hesitate whenever I feel the urge to recommend this book to someone. It truly is the first great literature of the 21st century that in the long run will stand shoulder to shoulder with Moby-Dick and Les Miserable. Something changed in me after reading the novel. It made me modest. It made me respect others more. All in all, it stimulated my awareness into constant vigilance for evilness of human nature. We don’t necessarily commit evil; the evil is committed when we are not aware. When we are complacent. When we do not try to look further and beyond what can be seen.

I hope to return to this book soon. It will accompany me as long as I breathe. Yes, it deserves A+.

Memorable Quotes_____________________________________________

“Three days after the meeting with Archimboldi’s publisher, he showed up in London unannounced, and after telling Liz Norton the latest news, he invited her to dinner at a restaurant in Hammersmith that a colleague in the Russian department had recommended, where they ate goulash and chickpea puree with beets and fish macerated in lemon with yogurt, a dinner with candles and violins and real Russian waiters and Irish waiters disguised as Russians, all of it excessive from any point of view, and somewhat rustic and dubious from a gastronomic point of view, and they had vodka with their dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux, and the whole meal cost Pelletier an arm and a leg, but it was worth it because then Norton invited him home, officially to dicuss Archimboldi and the few things that Mrs. Bubis had revealed, including, of course, the critic Schleiermacher’s contemptuous appraisal of Archimboldi’s first book, and then both of them started to laugh and Pelletier kissed Norton on the lips, with great tact, and she kissed him back much more ardently, thanks possibly to the dinner and the vodka and the Bordeaux, but Pelletier thought it showed promise, and then they went to bed and screwed for an hour until Norton fell asleep.” – 30

 

“And he also remembered that he felt tenderness toward Espinoza at that moment, a tenderness that brought back adolescence, adventures fiercely shared, and small-town afternoons.” – 31

 

“They talked about what they’d felt as they rained blows on the fallen body. A combination of sleepiness and sexual desire.” -76

 

“It might be a live star or it might be a dead star. Sometimes, depending on your point of view, he said, it doesn’t matter, since the stars you see at night exist in the realm of semblance. They are semblances, the same way dreams are semblances. So the traveler on Route 80 with a flat tire doesn’t know whether what he’s staring up at in the vast night are stars or whether they’re dreams. In a way, he said, the traveler is also part of a dream, a dream that breaks away from another dream like one drop of water breaking away from a bigger drop of water that we call a wave.” – 252

 

“Fate tried to get a look at them, but the lights, focused on the ring, left the upper part of the hall in darkness. The tone, he thought, was solemn and defiant, the battle hymn of a lost war sung in the dark. In the solemnity there was only desperation and death, but in the defiance there was a hint of corrosive humor, a humor that existed only in relation to itself and in dreams, no matter whether the dreams were long or short.” – 308

 

“No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them.” – 348

 

“She had been vaginally and anally raped, probably more than once, since both orifices exhibited tears and abrasions, from which she had bled profusely.” – 354

 

Haas didn’t understand how a cock could get hard when faced with an asshole like Farfan’s or Gomez’s. He could understand that a man might be turned on by an adolescent, a youth, he thought, but not that a man or a man’s brain could signal for blood to fill the spongy tissue of the penis, difficult as that was, with the sole enticement of an asshole like Farfan’s or Gomez’s. Animals, he thought. Filthy beasts attracted by filth. – 488

 

“Then they talked about freedom and evil, about the highways of freedom where evil is like a Ferrari, and after a while…” – 536

 

“There were the usual deaths, yes, those to be expected, people who started off celebrating and ended up killing each other, uncinematic deaths, deaths from the realm of folklore, not modernity: deaths that didn’t scare anybody.”

 

“What twisted people we are. How simple we seem, or pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down.” – 596

 

“Until that moment archimboldi had never thought about fame. Hitler was famous. Goring was famous. The people he loved or remembered fondly weren’t famous, they just satisfied certain needs. Doblin was his consolation. Ansky was his strength. Ingeborg was his joy. The disappeared Hugo Halder was lightheartedness and fun. His sister, about whom he had no news, was his own innocence.” – 802

 

“During this time, Archimboldi’s finances improved slightly, but only slightly. The Cologne Cultural Center paid him for two public readings in two different city bookshops, whose owners, it must be said, knew Mr. Bubis personally. Neither reading aroused marked interest. Only fifteen people, counting Ingeborg, came to the first, at which the author read selections from his novel Ludicke, and at the end only three dared to buy the book. At the second reading, of selections from The Endless Rose, there were nine, again counting Ingeborg, and at the end only three people were left in the room, the small size of which went some way toward softening the blow. Among them, of course, was Ingeborg, who hours later confessed to Archimboldi that at a certain point she too had considered leaving.”