The Piano Teacher, R and Unrated Cuts

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 as both an "R Rated Version" and an "Unrated Director's Cut."  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. 😎 

Update 3/16/16 - 7/8/18: This post has been begging for an update since last year, when we finally got this film on blu-ray, and from the Criterion Collection no less.  Well, it goes without saying that this should be a serious PQ update (though of course we'll delve into that more seriously below); but their special features selection is a little curious and maybe a little disappointing?  Let's have a look.

Update 11/10/20: I've added the French TF1 blu-ray to the mix, too.  It's from their 2013 'Le Cinéma de Michael Haneke' boxed set.
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 discs from Artificial Eye and Criterion are 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'd still have wanted to think about replacing it with Artificial Eye's, as you'll soon see.  Though of course now all the DVDs have been rendered obsolete by the blu-rays, released first by TF1 in France in 2013 and more recently in the US by Criterion in 2017.
1) Kino's 2002 R Rated US DVD; 2) Kino's 2002 Unrated US DVD;
3) Artificial Eye's 2002 UK DVD; 4) TF1's 2013 FR BD;
5) Criterion's 2017 US BD.
Wow, now there's a strong progression from edition to edition if I ever saw one. right off the bat, the Kino discs are non-anamorphic and interlaced. Otherwise, the transfers between the DVDs look fairly similar - presumably they're using the same root master - but those are two pretty major sticking points. 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.

Admittedly, though, the question of which DVD is preferable becomes fairly academic in the wake of the blu-rays.  I refer to them jointly, because they are virtually identical, obviously using the same master.  They've made a new scan of the original camera negative, and it's a massive improvement in detail just overall picture quality.  The film is slightly matted to 1.85:1, shaving not just a little off the top and bottom, but even narrow slivers along the sides.  The color scheme is more muted, too, with a lower contrast, flatter look - for example, compare the whites of the orchestra's sheet music.  Haneke is credited in Criterion's booklet as supervising the color correction, though, so this is the presumably correct look.  It's certainly more natural compared to the DVDs.  And anyway, the real story is in the fine detail and photo realistic clarity; it feels absurd to even spell it all out underneath the screenshots, since it's a night and day improvement.

Another mark against the Kino DVDs, by the way: every disc's subtitles are removable, except Kino's, which are burnt in. And AE's disc has a 5.1 mix in addition to its 2.0 stereo track, while Kino just has the 2.0. TF1 and Criterion both have the 5.1 mix remastered in lossless DTS-HD, though curiously they've chucked the stereo mix all together.  More curiously, TF1 has kept the lossy 5.1 mix as a secondary option.  But the bad news about TF1, and the most important thing to know about that their whole disc, is that it doesn't have any subtitles or English language options at all.  Other discs in the TF1 do have English subs, but not all, and this is one that doesn't.
The extras is where things really further complicated. Now, Kino isn't barebones. It has the theatrical trailer, and a quite good, 20 minute on-camera interview with Isabelle Huppert. And it includes a basic insert with chapter titles. Oh, and all this is the same across both the R and unrated discs, by the way.  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 (totaling up to maybe fifty-ish minutes) 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. Then, 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. AE also has the trailer, plus reversible cover art., 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 a let down. Still, it's better than no interview at all.
TF1 has some stuff, but like their presentation of the film, it isn't English-friendly at all.  For the record - if, say, you're fluent in French - they have a 25-minute interview with Haneke and a short featurette with a French critic.  But it's no use to us English speakers.

And now we come to Criterion.  And to start with, no they don't have the Huppert interview from the Kino disc either.  They did carry over a bunch of the AE extras, though, including the commentary and dubbing session.  But they don't have the Haneke or Jelinek interviews.  Now, the absent Haneke and Huppert interviews are made up for, because Criterion has recorded new on-camera interviews with them both.  But there's no equivalent of the Jelinek interview, and it's just a shame to be losing as many special features as we're gaining with this new edition.  Nothing new is really being brought to the table, so much as a couple of lost features are being replaced.  Like Criterion's set of features, taken on their own, are good and rewarding; but if you already had the DVDs, it's a bit of a strange compromise rather than a boon of new content.  Oh, and Criterion's disc also includes the trailer, and a nice fold-out booklet with an essay by Moira Weigel, by the way.
So, yes, the Criterion is definitely and obviously the way to go at this stage.  Both blus offer a huge boost in picture quality, but only Criterion couples that with a nice set of features.  Owners of the past DVDs may feel compelled to hang onto those as well, though, since they both retain exclusive extras.  It would've been nice to clear those off the shelves with this new edition, but oh well.  I wouldn't go so far as to recommend going back and buying the DVDs in addition to the blu, however, since most of those Haneke and Huppert interviews are fairly redundant, and the Jelinek interview never got around to The Piano Teacher anyway.  Haneke does say some different things across the two interviews, but unless you're a die-hard collector, any one is probably enough.  Something different, like an interview with any other cast or crew member - to feel like we're getting some new content with our purchase - would've been nice.  But this is still a killer upgrade, especially essential if you've only got that non-anamorphic, interlaced mess from Kino.


  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.

  2. Amazon now has a Kino dvd of The Piano Teacher that says unrated director's cut at 2 hrs 5 mins, and the Criterion collection rated R at 2 hrs 10 mins. Confusing but I know their labels and details are not always accurate. Would you know much that could clear this up. I'd think Criterion would be the way to get the full film but more expensive too if the Kino dvd is the same. Thanks for any help you can provide

    1. Good question! I was confused about this for a minute, too, because those times ARE correct; it's not just Amazon being clueless or something. But yes, both the Unrated Kino DVD and Criterion edition are the same cut, beat for beat. The reason why Kino is about five minutes shorter seems to be that it's sourced from a PAL transfer (hence the interlacing as well). So as long as you're buying the UNrated DVD, you're getting the same version, albeit in the lower quality. The R-rated DVD, though, runs just 118 minutes, and is shorter as I described in the post.