Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: "Amour"

Michael Haneke's Amour is one of the must see films of 2012. It won the prestigious Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival in May. It is Haneke's second Palme d'Or in four years, after 2009's disturbingly terrific black and white masterpiece The White Ribbon (which lost the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film to Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes). Amour features a mesmerizing performance from French actress Emmanuelle Riva, as a woman awaiting her own death. It is a performance that rivals that of Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone). Playing her loving and dutiful husband is Jean-Louis Trintignant, an award-winning French actor who had not been on screen in over a decade. Their performances are profound and heartbreaking, in film that is both heartwarming in its tenderness and chilling in its realistic portrayal of death and senility. Haneke, a German-born Austrian filmmaker, has made films in German, English and French. Thankfully, Amour, a French-language film, is Austrian-made and has been submitted for Best Foreign Language film by Austria (and has made the final cut of nine films prior to nominations). France has chosen to submit Les Intouchables (review), a disappointing choice when one considers Rust and Bone (though it has also made the final cut). Michael Haneke's style of direction involves many silent, lingering shots that add to the emotional discomfort of the film. Shots of Riva's deteriorating visage followed by shots of Trintignant's crumbling spirit are as necessary as their emotional impact. Haneke, upon winning the Palme d'Or, lauded Riva and Trintignant, claiming it to be their film. Amour is a beautifully made and acted film from a European master that presents a profound (and terrifying) depiction of love and death, with exceptionally gifted performances from Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant.

Anne (Riva) and Georges (Trintignant) are retired music teachers living in a Parisian apartment. Early in the film, Anne and George return home from a concert and Georges spontaneously remarks how beautiful his wife looks. It is a heartwarming act of love. From here, the entire film occurs within the confines of their apartment: the bedroom, the living room, the kitchen, the foyer, and the small guest bedroom. While sitting having breakfast together one morning Georges notices that Anne has stopped talking. She is staring off into space. Anne is hesitant to visit the doctor, but it is later revealed that Anne has a very serious condition that requires surgery. After an unsuccessful surgery, Anne is confined to the apartment and Georges becomes her primary caregiver. His love rarely wavers, but it is clear that she is waiting for death. The film also features a strong performance from Isabelle Huppert, as Anne and Georges' daughter Eva.

Since its premiere at Cannes in May, Amour has been one of the most talked about films of the year. It is refreshing to see a foreign film so highly regarded amongst American film critics. Movie City News has a ranking of Top Ten Lists, where Amour has a prominent spot at number two, four points behind Zero Dark Thirty. Michael Haneke's direction is very clear throughout the film. He has a clear vision of the final product. Amour is not as perfectly stylized as The White Ribbon, a shocking black and white film about a German town prior to World War I, but Haneke is right to laud his actors. Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are flawless in the film. I watched the film knowing how it would end (as the opening scene is chronologically at the end), but I was still shocked and amazed at how I was affected emotionally. Both these actors, in quiet and remarkable ways, are able to emote so clearly with their eyes. As with Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, it is amazing to see a woman give herself so completely to a role that requires  such a handicap. Amour is a beautifully made portrait of old age, with a couple once so completely in love. It has the potential to be a longstanding masterpiece that further cements Haneke's status as an innovative director.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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