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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Amour Review

Jean-Louis Trintignant (left) with Emmanuelle Riva (right) in Amour 
Sony Pictures Classics
Amour Review
2012, 127 minutes
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language

Only Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher, Cache) could have made this film.  And only Michael Haneke would have made this film, and won the Palme d'Or for it (his second win in a roll).  Amour follows how an elderly man, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant of The Conformist), copes with the failing health of his wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva of Hiroshima, Mon Amour), after she has a stroke.  The film co-stars Isabelle Huppert (White Material, The Piano Teacher) as Georges and Anne's daughter.  

This film works because of three people: Haneke, Trintignant, and Riva.  Haneke does a masterful job directing this film.  One of his greatest strengths is that he doesn't resort to sentimentality.  Amour is an exercise in unflinching realism.  Haneke made the bold decision to shoot this film with mostly static, long takes, increasing the sense of realism and decreasing any chance of cinematic flourishes getting in the way of his storyline.  Each shot, while static, is expertly composed.

Haneke also wrote the screenplay to this film.  While this is not as dark or disturbing as The White Ribbon or The Piano Teacher, Amour will definitely push the boundaries, even with its PG-13 rating, of what audiences can handle.  As I mentioned, Haneke makes Amour uncompromising in every way that he can.  Consistent with his other films, Haneke uses very slow pacing to make the lives depicted actually seem like real life, something that very few filmmakers do.  Though the pace is slow, there is never a question about Haneke's control over the film.  He explores the darkest aspects of old age and is never afraid to shy away from anything.  One of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the film happens when Georges has to spoon-feed Anne some oatmeal.  He gives her the food with loving care, but after a few bites, she refuses.  At this point, she no longer has a desire to live and Haneke and Riva depict this with heart wrenching detail.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant give two of the very best performances this year.  Riva's, up to this point, may be the best female performance this year.  As Anne, she has the heavy-lifing to do.    Having to depict a woman who survives a stroke, then another, she has to portray suffering and misery to the extreme.  In addition, by the half-way point of the film, half of Anne's face is paralyzed, adding another challenge which Riva rises to expertly.  Riva, a very experienced and acclaimed legend, hasn't lost any of her power due to age (I haven't seen anything else that she's been in, but with this much power at 85, I can't imagine what she was like when she was younger).  Jean-Louis Trintignant is excellent also as Georges.  The love and care that he shows to Riva makes it seem as if they really had been married for years.  This is a performance from an actor who has not lost his game yet.

This film as a whole is wonderful.  The themes explored and questions raised are powerful and provocative.  What do you do when the person that you love is nearly incapacitated and doesn't want to live?  Haneke shows one way to handle that issue.  Stick it out.  Needless to say, Amour is not an easy watch.  It is painful, but somehow cathartic.  When the film was over, I felt its impact like a ton of bricks.  Sitting through it, I was literally moved to tears.  The climactic scene of this movie is one of the most unexpected scenes that you are likely to see this year and hurt me to watch it.

Overall, Amour is one of the best films that you are likely to see this year.  At a time when many films are too sentimental and artificial, it is refreshing to see a film that is gutsy and, more than anything, honest.

-Joshua Handler

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