A study of obsession and perversity sculpted in ice, "La Pianiste" will stick with you. Emotionally and intellectually challenging and very hard to watch at times, this solidifies Haneke's reputation as one of the few contemporary directors willing and able to experiment.
What could have smacked of sensationalism is redeemed by a suitably cold directorial approach. The sexual and violent scenes are shown as if they were diagrams in an encyclopedia. Cold, indifferent and scientific.
Haneke (now one of my favorite directors) certainly knows how to play with pause and interruption. A master of tension, he creates a deceptively calm front for the film that makes the inevitable explosions of violence even more shocking. The beating/rape scene in this and the throat-cutting scene in "Hidden" both reflect this unique ability.
Everything in the film represents the clean, coldly intellectual worldview of the main character. The interiors are large, uncluttered and almost impossibly formal. The cinematography is very crisp, in fact, too crisp - everything looks clean and "real" but there's an undercurrent of danger. It is like looking at a kitchen display in a home furnishings store - it looks like a kitchen but it is definitely not a real kitchen. The speed of movements seems slightly altered and a bit jerky - like watching an image in a flipbook. All the technical aspects of the film support the major themes of the lead character's story arc in surprising, intriguing ways.
Isabelle Huppert is superb in the lead. Watching her face, the expressions of her eyes - it is like seeing frost form on a window. It is a cold, clean, sharp performance, but it is sharp like a knife.
The support is equally fine. Annie Girardot is funny, scary and sad as Huppert's oppressive mother, and sleazy/sexy Benoit Magimel is a worthy emotional foil to Huppert's intellectualism.
That, and the music is excellent!