The Piano Teacher, R and Unrated Cuts (US/ UK Comparison)

So, we've looked at Michael Haneke's first French film, and even his third... it was only a matter of time until we hit on his second, The Piano Teacher. It was released on DVD in the UK and the USA, respectively, in 2002, with two rather different releases. Or three, strictly speaking, as Kino released it in the states in both R and unrated editions. I was curious exactly what the differences between those two cuts were, and was surprisingly unable to find the answers online. So I've worked it out for myself, and I'm putting them onto the 'net now. 😎
Isabelle Huppert stars as a music instructor (I won't spoil which instrument!) who couldn't be more dissatisfied with her life and secretly lashes out at everyone around her, especially herself. She lives with her very controlling mother and psychologically tortures her star pupil, a young girl who's made the unfortunate mistake of reminding her teacher of herself. She soon seeks refuge in a sexual relationship with another of her students, who she encourages to be violent and abusive. Yeah, this is dark stuff; but it's intense and very authentic.

The Piano Teacher was the first of several collaborations between the Haneke and Huppert (they're currently preparing #4, Happy End, as of this writing). And you only have to watch this film to see why they keep working together. This is one seriously powerful character study. It's based on the autobiographical, and somewhat shocking, novel by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, and as it's from Haneke, you know he's not going to shy away from the dangerous bits. And because of this, it's a little bit more conventional in its structure than most of Haneke's films. But from the locked frames and completely unsentimental deliveries, there's no mistaking whose work this is. This is a Haneke film all the way, and more than that, one of his best.
A scene only included in the unrated cut.
Now there's a moment in The Piano Teacher, where Huppert goes to a porno shop and watches some hardcore pornography in a private booth. What we get a glimpse of is explicitly hardcore, so I was pretty sure this was the difference between the R and unrated cuts. But I'm glad I checked, because it's actually the first of many cuts.

25:55) The hardcore pornography Huppert watches in the booth. First she's shown a split-screen image of four graphic images to choose from. She then selects one: an upside-down blowjob and we see a few seconds of that. In the R-rated version, we only see her reaction shots and hear the sounds of what she's watching.

33:43) The entire three-minute scene in the bathroom [shown above] is cut. The US version jumps right from the shot of the acceptance sheet to Huppert arguing with her mother. So not only do we not see the admittedly shocking thing she does to herself with a handheld mirror and a razor; but we don't hear her mother calling her and then the trouble she goes through to hide the evidence. It seems odd the MPAA would object to her cleaning her bath. More importantly, not seeing this scene totally destroys the next talk with her mother, which you interpret in a totally different way without knowing what Huppert's just done. The decision to cut this whole scene, rather than just trim it like the previous edit, is really destructive.

50:05) The scene of Huppert peeing outside of the lovers' car at the drive-in is heavily shortened.

1:05:20) The handjob scene in the bathroom is shortened. In fact, it's only a handjob scene in the unrated version, because the R-rated version goes right from them starting to get physical to the guy saying "I love you." In the complete version she begins to masturbate him and only says "I love you" after stopping her.

1:06:13) The r-rated cut also snips out the moment where she goes down on him, cutting right from the handjob rejection to Huppert's threats to leave. The guy goes from loving to hostile on a dime in the r-rated cut; but we see the motivations in this longer version with lines like, "I've no desire to touch that now." Even worse, we lose her whole speech about "I'll write down what you can do to me," which is a critical story point.

1:18:51) When Huppert tells the boy "stop being such a leech," the R-rated cuts to them practicing at the piano again, but the unrated version continues with him replying, "you cough because you're uptight." And they have a lengthy argument, where she tells him she has no feelings and forbids him from reading her note or doing anything that doesn't relate to music in that room. It's entirely sex-free, so I'm baffled as to why this has been cut.

1:26:14) Most of the note being read aloud is cut out. Apparently even talking about BDSM sex is too much for an R-rating.

1:43:48) It makes more sense that the sex scene at the hockey rink was cut short. The r-rated version has an awkward fade to black and then fade back to the same scene, while it plays naturally all the way through in the uncut version.  They only wind up losing a few seconds of non-nudity, though.
The trimmed scene from 50:05.
Meanwhile, the entire ending scene, which is perhaps the most extreme of the film, is left uncut. It really is puzzling how they could leave that in, but cut out dialogue in the piano room? These cuts must not have been only MPAA-based. It's a little mystery. Honestly though, it's not terribly important, since Kino did also release an unrated version. And yes, the UK disc from Artificial Eye is also uncut. So there's no reason to bother with the R except as a curiosity piece, which I suppose it does live up to.

But even if you were clever enough to make sure you got the unrated Kino DVD rather than the R-rated one, you still might want to think about replacing it with Artificial Eye's. Why? Let's take a look.
Kino's 2002 US DVD on top; Artificial Eye's 2002 UK DVD below.
Ew, yuck. The Kino disc is non-anamorphic and interlaced. The transfers look pretty similar apart from that, but those are two pretty major sticking points. The Artificial Eye is definitely preferable. The framing is also slightly different, with the AE disc minimally letterboxed to 1.80-1.81:1, and the Kino is window-boxed to about 1.70:1. Basically, this gives the AE disc a sliver of extra picture on the sides, and the Kino a sliver on the top and bottom. You really need to be directly comparing the two to even notice the difference, however. The non-anamorphic picture and interlacing are the real deal breakers.

Oh, also AE's subtitles are removable, while Kino's are burnt in. So there's that, too. And AE's disc has a 5.1 mix in addition to its 2.0 stereo track, while Kino just has the 2.0.
And the balance gets even further out of wack in the extras. Now, Kino isn't barebones. It has the the theatrical trailer, and a quite good, 20 minute on-camera interview with Isabelle Huppert. And it includes a basic insert with chapter titles. But that's it. Artificial Eye has a whole lot more.

AE actually doesn't have the Huppert interview, so score 1 point for Kino. But they do have an audio commentary by her. It's scene specific, and only on seven scenes rather than the whole movie. But I'd much rather have that than have her stretching to fill the rest of the running time if she didn't have more to say. The commentary, even partial as it is, winds up being more informative than the interview. Than AE also has a really good interview with Haneke, helped by the fact that whoever's asking the questions seems to have a solid insight into the film. And there's an interesting behind-the-scenes look at an ADR session from the post-production of this movie. And finally, there's an interview with the author, which sounds great; but unfortunately, she just talks about her childhood, parents, and a bit about her novel Lust at the end. She doesn't mention The Piano Teacher - the book or the film - at all, which is disappointing. Still, it's better than no interview at all.

AE also has the trailer, plus reversible cover art. It's a much more thorough, rewarding package overall.
So, yes, I don't think there's much of an argument to be made for the Kino DVDs. It's definitely better to import. Of course, both transfers look pretty blah. The Piano Teacher is definitely ready for a serious blu-ray upgrade. So at this point, you might want to hold out for that. But in the meantime, if you're going to have this film in your collection - and you should because it's a bit of masterpiece - the British DVD from Artificial Eye is the only way to go.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! I was about to watch the R-rated version but now that I know how much is cut out I'm going to wait until I can get my hands on the unrated version.

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