Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Amour: A Review


Amour was the last Best Picture nominee that I had not seen until now, seeing it two days before the Oscars were handed out.  It was not a surprise that it won Best Foreign-Language Film, and yes it is extremely well-made.  However, there were things that trouble me about Amour: first, the ending, second, the actual end of the film.

Georges (Jean-Louis Trigtingant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are an elderly couple, former music teachers living their years together with a certain contentment.  They go enjoy performances from former students and just living their lives together.  Things are going along well until one morning Anne just goes blank.  Georges is alarmed, and even more alarmed when she remembers nothing about going blank.  Anne had a stroke.

She isn't too badly affected but she certainly does not want to go back to the hospital, where surgery has left her paralyzed on the left side.  Anne has made Georges promise to not take her either there or a hospice, and he is determined to follow her wishes.  This doesn't sit well with their daughter Eva (Isabelle Hubbert), who drops by intermittently, concerned both about her mother's condition and her father's determination to care for his ailing wife.

Anne's condition continues to deteriorate, until Anne simply becomes so weak that Georges starts to finally crumble, leading to an act that we already know happened since Amour begins with a beautifully-laid out Anne on her bed, surrounded by flowers in a taped-up room.

Amour like I said is well-made film, very well-made.  Writer-director Michael Haneke tells his story simply, with no excessive dramatics.  There is no score to emphasize the tragedy of Amour.  In fact, there is no music apart from that which is played on-screen.

The performances are all excellent.  Trintignant is superb as Georges, someone who sees things as they are and behaves accordingly.  He never gets into hysterics, he rarely if ever raises his voice (making a moment of violence even more shocking).  Riva is also brilliant as Anne: her descent into total dependency lends everything a greater touch of sadness to an already sad story.  While Hubbert and real-life pianist Alexandre Tharaud as Anne's former student aren't on screen for long, their scenes are equally excellent.

Amour is a well-acted, well-written, well-made film.  Therefore, why I am voting it down?

For myself, Amour was remarkably cold and distant.  Only Eva appears to have any sense that perhaps all this might be too much for Georges.  As I watched, I wondered whether it was really love that motivated Georges to keep caring for his wife, or just because he felt it was something he had to do.  It reminds me of something I once overheard, "No one is that brave except in the movies".  I don't think Georges is brave, or even loving. 

I also am troubled by the actions Georges takes at the end.  One can see it as an act of love, but one could also see it as a way to end his own suffering.  Whether it is a noble or selfish act I leave to the viewer.

Finally, the fact that the film just ended with Georges' fate unknown, stopping with Eva just wandering her parent's flat, is a head-scratcher.  The audience I was with responded negatively, with a lot of "What?" being heard.  These are not young kids watching Amour (which frankly I don't think Amour would appeal to the majority of people under 50).  It was the target audience: adults over 50 who seek out foreign-language films that receive critical acclaim that made up this audience, and the ending was just not good.

Yes, Amour is brilliantly acted, directed, and written, telling a sad story that is sadly all too common today.  However, I did find it on the whole a cold film, one that kept me at a distance.  It is well-made, and I applaud it for its craft.  However, I just felt Amour was more clinical than emotional, appealing to my head than to my heart.  From my limited experience, it is in my heart where amour resides.

I will smother you with my love...


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