Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Plot: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple's bond of love is severely tested.
Genre: Drama / Romance
Awards: Won Palme d'Or (Cannes). Won 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film. Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Original Screenplay
Rating: NC16 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Michael Haneke can do no wrong, can he? What does a filmmaker hope to do after he or she has won a Palme d'Or? Well, he or she makes another Palme d'Or-worthy film. Haneke follows up to his exceptionally good The White Ribbon (2010) with Amour, a film not as terrific, but certainly packs a punch as powerful as any other in his oeuvre.
For the uninitiated, 'amour' means 'love' in French, but there is nothing romantic about Haneke's film, except for devotion of the purest kind - the devotion of an old man who chooses to care for his bedridden wife until the end.
But to what end? And to what kind of end? Haneke delivers this challenging question, among many others, as his leading cast give performances of the highest calibre. Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Conformist, 1970; Three Colors: Red, 1994) plays Georges, and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima mon amour, 1959) plays Anne, the unfortunate couple plagued by the realities of old age.
Riva, in all honesty, gives one of those brave and essentially human performances that would win an Oscar any year. The truth is that a nomination is as good as a win for her; but not being nominated at all is simply unthinkable.
Haneke directs with clinical precision his layered screenplay, but leaves room for expression from his cast. His framing is deliberate, very formalized. It almost always never moves; only the characters move in his shots.
But when we see a motionless Anne in bed, it becomes a competition of stillness that evokes some kind of tragic impression of total paralysis where the character seems to cease to exist in the frame, while the film ceases to exist as itself, only merely functioning as a recording, not so distant from the kind of aesthetic that made Cache (2005) so troubling to watch.
Amour reveals with psychological depth both the joy and burden of caring for a loved one. In one scene, Georges attempts to teach his speech-impaired wife to sing a verse from a song as he tries to lift the gloom and frustration. In another scene, Georges answers the door, but there's no one there, in what turns out to be a masterful exercise by Haneke in building psychological tension through misdirection.
Amour moves slowly but deliberately, but as Isabelle Huppert (who has a supporting role in the film) remarked in a post-screening discussion that I was fortunate to be present in, it is less abstract than Haneke's previous pictures, thus its universal themes on the human condition is likely to be more accessible and rewarding for the somewhat casual moviegoer.
Haneke's films may be performance-driven, but a constant theme that runs like an undercurrent in his works is his fascination with the psychology of violence. Amour is not all about love and romance; it is also an incredibly violent film in that it inflicts mental and emotional distress on the viewer.
The violence of time ravages the body, and while love can transcend anything and everything that comes before it, it also manages to convince that to live is as much a blessing as it is a curse.
Verdict: Another excellent Haneke film that deals with psychological and philosophical depth the realities of old age.
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