This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
The Indian boy comes every afternoon for piano lessons from Madame Sousatzka, who cannot disguise the love in her voice as she teaches him not only about music, but about how to sit, how to breathe, how to hold his elbows, and how to think about his talent. Behind her, in the shadows of her musty London apartment, are the photographs of earlier students who were taught the same lessons before they went out into the world - where some of them became great pianists and others became just players of the piano.
Madame Sousatzka believes that this boy, Manek, can be a great pianist, a virtuoso - but we, in the audience, have no objective way to know if she is a great teacher of great musicians, or just a piano teacher who is deluding herself and the boy. That doesn’t matter.
“Madame Sousatzka” is not a one-level movie in which everything leads up to the cliche of the crucial first concert. This is not a movie about success or failure; it is a movie about soldiering on, about continuing to do your best, day after day, simply because you believe in yourself - no matter what anyone else thinks. Madame believes this 16-year-old boy can be a great pianist, and that she - no one else - is the person to guide him on the right path to his destiny.
“Madame Sousatzka” is a film about her efforts to protect the boy from all of the pressures and temptations around him, while simultaneously shoring up the ruins of her own world. As played by Shirley MacLaine, in one of the best performances of the year, she is a faded, aging woman who possesses great stubbornness and conviction.