Amour

AmourPhotobucketAn austere, unflinching portrait of an elderly Parisian husband and wife facing the difficulties that precipitate aging.  Becoming older is the subject of this heartfelt film – specifically the physical and mental breakdown of a man’s spouse as she falls ill. The script treats the issue with sensitivity and there is a surprising warmth to a chronicle with which director Michael Haneke is usually not associated. But the filmmaker, whose oeuvre was described by one author as a “cinema of cruelty”, hasn’t really changed that much. Sentimental accounts are not his bag and true to his sensibilities, there are aspects that highlight this as a drama done in his quintessential style.

Georges and Anne are retired music teachers in their 80s.  They’re attending a recital of one of their previous students near the beginning of the picture. When they return home, they discover they have been robbed. The minutiae of their conversation informs us that they have a comfortable ease with each other that only a long-time married couple would have. The next morning as they’re sitting down to breakfast, Anne begins staring off into space and doesn’t respond to his questions. Georges is concerned and he arranges for her to see a doctor. He determines she requires surgery. It isn’t successful once completed. This all happens in the first 15 minutes. As the narrative develops her capabilities slowly deteriorate over an extended time span. We are essentially confined to their apartment. With the exception of a few scenes featuring their daughter played by Isabelle Huppert, these two carry the entire movie. The action is claustrophobic and agonizing. At one point about halfway through, he’s getting ready for bed for the night. There’s a knock at the door. Let’s just say what happens next is a good example of one of those intense moments.

At the heart of Amour are two engaging performances that are tantamount to our connection to this story. Jean-Louis Trintignant is an internationally recognized French film star with films darting back as early as 1956. Anyone who has ever seen A Man and a Woman will remember him in his 30s. Ditto Emmanuelle Riva who starred in Hiroshima, mon amour back in 1959. As Georges and Anne These two actors are essential to our “enjoyment” of this production. I use quotes because enjoy is such a strong word.  The actors are warm and genuine, but the mood is chilly and remote. The central couple are equally genial and sweet. They could be our grandparents. We are drawn into their plight because we care about them. Once you do, there is no turning back as you descend a path of gradually building despair. Haneke’s traditional use of extremely long static takes is particularly effective here. They present the developments as real life, without artifice. There’s no score, another Haneke attribute. These qualities lull the audience into a state of depression. It is startlingly unsentimental. The lack of visual or audio cues is refreshing in it’s presentation of an idea often manipulated with such indicators. This is Haneke’s version of a disease-of-the-week TV movie. It’s not a reassuring portrayal, but it is sobering and honest.

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20 Responses to “Amour”

  1. Nice review. I really loved this one and it probably would be my pick for the best film of the year.

    • Yes I saw your review. How cool you got to watch this back in October during the New York Film Festival . There’s things about the film I really love — like the performances. It’s definitely a film I won’t soon forget.

  2. I hope to see this one before Oscar but looks like I have to wait for the dvd as it’s not playing anywhere near me 😦 The subject matter sounds intriguing, and austere if done right can be quite powerful.

    • As you’re watching, you can’t help but bring your own experiences into the developments of the picture. If you have suffered this situation with a loved one, this could be a very emotional and challenging picture to sit through.

  3. Haneke is a master of slow-burning suspense, even if there is no pay-off. Amour is on my list of must see right now, but I guess I have until February 23 to track it down. I think?

    • “…even if there is no pay-off. ”

      You’re so right. The lack of a payoff in his 2005 film Caché, marred an otherwise brilliant film. However, there is a definitely a payoff to this film. The ending will prompt much discussion.

  4. Really nice review. I love these emotion character driven movies so I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

  5. An excellent review here with a good snapshot of what to expect for those of us who haven’t got the chance to see it yet. Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate it.

  6. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out with Haneke behind it all. I knew he directed Funny Games (and the American remake), but I didn’t know that’s what a lot of his career was. Now that this is nominated for Best Picture, I’ll try and see it ASAP. Maybe beforehand I’ll try and imagine an elderly couple in an apartment…not sure I can visualize it.

  7. I never got around to writing up a review of this, but it almost made it into my top 10 of 2013 (along with fellow French movie Rust & Bone). Amour is a fantastic study of devotion through hard times that makes for an exhausting watch, in both good and a bad ways, thanks largely to there being no music to underscore the scenes.
    There are some moments where I wish there had been stronger editing of the movie (the pigeon scene for example), but Michael Haneke has focused on the subject of devotion on purpose as an analogy to show his own devotion to great cinema.
    Jean-Louis Trintignant deserves every bit of praise he receives for the role. I have to admit I have never seen him in a movie before (or at least to the best of my memory) but he holds the screen in every scene.

    • Amour is in French with French actors. Interestingly Amour is actually the Austrian entry for Best Foreign Language film because of Michael Haneke’s nationality.

      I agree with you about Jean-Louis Trintignant. Emmanuelle Riva has gotten all the acclaim, but he holds his own in every scene and in some ways has a more difficult role to perform.

      Fun Fact: The pigeon scene was shot 12 times.

  8. There’s a film festival in my area in a little over two weeks; my first time at a film festival, obviously, so I’m very excited. I’m seeing Amour, Searching for Sugar Man, and The Intouchables. I might see The Impossible as well (dilemma isn’t my negativity toward the trailer hahah, it’s actually because I wouldn’t get back till very late if I went to see it). Wanted to see Rust and Bone as well, but I don’t think I should bother trying to ask my parents to take me to that one hahah.

    • Sounds like fun. Which film festival is it? The local one here Cinequest is great because it highlights new films that haven’t come out yet from developing directors.

      • I guess that’s special for San Francisco (you live near there, right?), because there’s art theaters hahah. I don’t have any art theaters within a half hour of me, so I feel kind of blessed when foreign films, documentaries, and terribly limited releases get exhibited near me. It’s the “WilmFilmFest” in Wilmington, DE.

      • Also, it just so happens that I’m watching The Big Lebowski this weekend, and they’re showing it next weekend at the film fest. I can excuse myself from watching it a third time, since it’s at midnight. 🙂

    • Cinequest is in San Jose. It’s about 50 miles south of San Francisco.

      Isn’t Wilmington just 30 miles from Philadelphia? Seems to me there should be a few art theaters in a major city like that. They also have a pretty famous film festival too:

      http://www.filmadelphia.org/

      • I don’t live in Philly actually, I just say I do so I don’t give away my exact location to the public and because they know where Philly is easily. I’m actually about forty-five minutes from Philly. Much closer to Wilmington. If I went to movies every weekend then I guess I’d be a PA resident on Monday through Friday and a DE resident (sort of) on Saturday and Sunday. 🙂

        I’m still trying to plan a chance to see a movie in an art theater in Philly, now that I’m an AFI member and I have two complementary tickets. Problem is, I have to wait till summer, because the tickets aren’t valid on Fridays, Saturday’s, Sunday’s, or holidays. You’ll have to let me know what’s worth it. 😉

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