[Review] – Amour

24 Dec

Amour

Title: Amour
Year: 2012
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language
Runtime: 127 min
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Metacritic: 93

Michael Haneke is, of course, one of those absolute masters in the art of cinema. The stuff he does with his films, putting forward a rather dark and often disturbing approach to deal with problematic issues of society, is just stunning to behold and puts him in that rare league of filmmakers that every single film he puts out I will be first in line to check it out. From The Piano Teacher to Caché to The White Ribbon, seeing a Michael Haneke film is an experience that really gets to you.

His new film is Amour, which back in May won him his second Palme d’Or in three years at Cannes (The White Ribbon won the award in 2010) and, unsurprisingly, it’s just a seriously stunning piece of filmmaking, just breathtakingly masterful in every single aspect and easily one of the year’s very best. What is surprising, however, is how caring and tender his approach to this story is, how genuinely beautiful and heart-tugging a depiction of love and getting old this is. This is still a Michael Haneke film, though, so I don’t mean that in the most conventional sense.

The film focuses on Anne and Georges, a married couple in their 80’s, both retired music professors. I will pretty much rattle off the whole plot here because this is one of those movies that’s just so much more than the plot. Even the ending is given away during the film’s opening, with firemen breaking the door of their Paris apartment finding Anne lying in bed. Then you backtrack a little ways to see how the predicament that befalls on this couple comes to be.

One day at the breakfast table Anne becomes catatonic, suddenly quiet, not responding to Georges words. She comes out of it but doesn’t remember what went on, Georges claiming that she’s actually playing a prank on him and she saying that he’s just going mad. Next thing you know Anne has to undergo surgery for a blocked artery that goes wrong and leaves her partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair. She makes Georges promise her that he won’t send her back to a hospital or to a nursing home, to which he agrees and continues to do so even after she suffers another stroke and after taking care of her takes a lot out of him. Their daughter, also a musician, wants Anne to go into a nursing home, but Georges refuses, never wanting to break the promise he made.

It really is just a remarkable film. So impeccably made in how it touches upon the fact of us having to face our own mortality, but it never once goes into the mawkish territory most movies that deal with the subject occupy, it’s just always searingly, heart-achingly honest about it. It’s a Michael Haneke film in how powerful and unrelentingly raw it is, but I just felt so much care from him in his script, so much love for Georges and Anne that I thought was something new for him, and I loved every second of it. It’s still his classic unsentimental style of portraying mundane reality, but this one is far from heartless.

The fact that this is such a perfect movie about love and death, however, isn’t solely because of Mr. Haneke. The actors he has playing the leading roles are just as big a reason, and they’re certainly two of the very best performances of the 2012 movie year. Playing Georges you have Jean-Louis Trintignant, an actor who’s been around since the early 50’s (but who hadn’t acted in films in nearly a decade prior to this), playing lead roles in both Costa Gavras’ Z and Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman. Playing Anne we have the wonderful Emmanuelle Riva, an actress (and poet) who’s been around for nearly as long but who mostly focusses on her stage work, but has still found time to appear in films from the likes of Alain Resnais and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

As you can see, these are two great, great actors, French acting legends, both coming out after laying low recently to play these intimate roles the way only actors as accomplished as they are could. These are both really complex performances and they are both wholly heartbreaking to behold, especially Ms. Riva’s (who’s been garnering some much deserved Oscar buzz) as this woman who just knows that everything that was once so purely and unequivocally hers, her body and mind, is being taken away from her by life.

I didn’t hesitate when I gave you the plot for this one because it’s not about that. I mean, yes, as you see the firemen breaking down the door of the locked room in the big Paris apartment and finding this old woman in a dress, lying in a bed with flowers, you’ll know the movie will be about how we get to that horrible scenario. But it’s about so much more, it may seem super straightforward narratively (even though parts of it are truly harsh to watch), but how it deals with its issues of life and death and trying to hold on to the former while standing tall against the latter is something that defies whatever explanation you may attach to it.

It’s kind of neat to see Amour and examine it in comparison to the previous work of Mr. Haneke. Like I said, the script is far more tender than anything he’s delivered before, and this not the kind of movie in which a sudden burst of horrific violence that can’t be explained comes along and totally disrupts whatever kind of expectation you had about it like most of his films are. Amour seems naturalistic and not existential, simply a look at this relationship and not something abstract that feels like a puzzle. But you could make the argument that the disruptions that are brought upon Georges and Anne in the shape of their mortality and how close it suddenly feels to them are just as strong as the more shocking ones in his previous films.

Powerful really is the right word, because you wouldn’t think just watching an elderly couple trying to go about their routine business and having it become harder and harder every day would be such an intense experience, but in Amour it is. Its’ amazing seeing Georges try to cope with his dying wife and trying to maintain a normal daily life, and it’s amazing seeing Anne trying to cope with what’s inevitably to come sooner rather than later. This is a husband who made a promise to his wife, and they’re part of a generation and of a type of highly-cultured Paris folk where that actually means something, and he abides by the promise, even if it means he has to do it alone, firing a nurse that treated his wife badly and fending off the desires of their daughter (who’s, by the way, played tremendously well by Isabelle Huppert).

I’ve seen Amour once and I can’t wait to see it again. But the fact is that after that second viewing I’ll probably not revisit it for years, because it’s a tough film to watch. But I want to see it again because of that ending, from the opening scene you know just how it’s going to end but that doesn’t make you more prepared for when it eventually comes, and my guess is that you won’t really know how to interpret it. I know that I don’t, at least not yet, and I’m more than fine with it because I know that’s what Michael Haneke is all about, he’s about questions more than he is about answers, and if the result of that are films like Amour, I’m more than happy to be left perplexed for years to come.

Amour is, without a doubt, a masterpiece and one of the year’s highlights, coming from a master filmmaker and two acting legends that bring to life two of the most unforgettable characters of the year. It’s tragic, sure, but it’s also undeniably beautiful in what it says about life and just how genuinely fragile it all is. I’ve heard people say that the title is meant as irony because there’s no love here; I wholeheartedly disagree, this is a love story through and through, about love and made with love, though, of course, since it’s a Michael Haneke love story, people will no doubt find an easy way to disagree with the conventional meaning of that assessment.

Grade: A+

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One Response to “[Review] – Amour”

  1. colincarman December 26, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Desperate to see this for director and older people in love; you have good taste.

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