The avoidance of love: The Piano Teacher (2001) as anti-melodrama
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In 1991, Isabelle Huppert starred in Claude Chabrol’s Madame Bovary, a film that charts the fall of Gustave Flaubert’s tragic heroine. Emma’s idealistic longing for earth-shattering romance is unmet in the realities of married life; devastated by a series of ill-fated affairs and an insurmountable debt, she abandons herself to that most dramatic display of suffering: a prolonged and painful suicide. On her deathbed, cradled by her devoted husband, Huppert’s Bovary emits a thick black liquid from her mouth: the product of a fatal dose of arsenic; the town priest bids the bereaved find comfort in God’s will, and Emma’s devastated husband defiantly curses this God for allowing such suffering. A decade after playing Emma Bovary, Huppert would star in another tale of doomed romance – Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste 2001). Adapted from Elfriede Jelinek’s novel, Der Klavierspielerin, Haneke’s rendering is a kind of anti-melodrama, taking the conventions of the doomed romance familiar from Bovary and showing them up for their contradictory nature: histrionic and subdued, grotesque and utterly banal.
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