Michael Haneke

The Piano Teacher

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

Isabelle Huppert's character's sado-masochistic desires seem inspired by pornography. Is "The Piano Teacher" a critique of pornography?

I see these wishes as her own wishes, not as those she has incorporated because of the pornography she's witnessed. She wants to experience something that she is afraid of, and reverse it. It is the case in every sado-masochistic relationship that you have a fear of being dominated and, at the same time, you want to oppress the other person. However, I don't want to speculate on such matters because then it sounds like cheap psychology.

What made Isabelle Huppert so right for this film in your mind?

Isabelle represents both sides of the character: she has this extraordinary emotional strength and capacity for suffering, but also this icy intellectualism. If I was to shoot this film, she had to play the role.

Some see culture as aiding communication and helping people along, but your film seems to be pessimistic in that respect.

I present music as a form of pure beauty. But it is also true that, in this Viennese petty bourgeois society, music allows people to rise socially and is one of the few means of that kind available to women. However, the social reality doesn't detract from the beauty. It is like trying to analyse love: you can try to define it as a physiological process, but that doesn't touch the reality of the emotion that affects people. Music, in my opinion, is the most sublime art of them all.

What can you tell me about the novel's author, Elfriede Jelinek?

She is one of the artists attacked by Haider's Right Wing party. During the election, they had posters that said, "Do you want Jelinek or do you want culture?" She represents the other Austria if you like and, obviously, I'm part of that other Austria, too.

"The Piano Teacher" is released in UK cinemas on Friday 9th November 2001.