Haneke's "Amour" Rings True and a Bit Unpleasant Review

Amour is a good movie that is painful to sit through. The film’s director, Michael Haneke, gives us an unflinching look at old age and love that feels true and important, even if it isn’t pleasant.

The story revolves around an elderly couple, Georges and Anne, and how their lives change drastically once Anne suffers a stroke. Anne goes from being a self-sufficient individual to an invalid dependant on her husband to help her with the most basic of tasks, all in the blink of an eye. That should sound like an incredibly difficult ordeal, and let me tell you, that is how it is portrayed.  The camera does not cut away from the elderly husband, Georges, performing various tasks on his wife Anne, even if sometimes we wish it would.

The end of the story comes first: we see police breaking into the apartment to find Anne’s corpse, which has presumably been there for several days, possibly weeks. At first this seems a curious choice; doesn't this spoil the rest of the movie for us? In fact, it just captivates you more, keeping you waiting for some sort of turning point, a catalyst. The movie builds slowly (very... slowly...) but by the end you begin to remember the beginning and think to yourself when does she die?

Georges, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, is interesting because he doesn't fit neatly into a cliché. He dotes on his wife hand and foot, doing whatever she needs him to without question. His love for her obviously runs deep, but neither does he mince words with her, or his daughter, or anyone else, often to the point of rudeness; he is polite but firm in his dealings with other people. He does not wear his emotions on his sleeve. He does not antagonize his wife but he won't let her shy away from physical therapy or eating just because they are hard.

Anne is a proud woman clearly skilled at her craft (one of her students has a small role, and we are left to conclude that she is a top-notch instructor). She has sharp edges (this pair appears well-suited for one another) but is also a rational, reasonable person. She clearly loves Georges. She just has a lot of dignity, sometimes too much; her second stroke comes about because she's embarrassed about wetting the bed. Emanuelle Riva’s performance is impressive for a few reasons, but her ability to convey such vulnerability and dignity at the same time comes to mind first. The Academy’s decision to nominate her for a Best Actress Oscar seems both justified and curious; I do not think that either Riva or Trintignant could have pulled off such amazing performances without the other.

The best scene in the movie occurs toward the end, when Anne has been reduced to a half-paralyzed, only occasionally lucid invalid in her own home. She starts shouting “Hurts!” as loudly and clearly as she can, which summons Georges from the other room. He rushes to her side and grabs her hand and begins to comfort her by telling her a story from his youth. The story itself is touching and mesmerizing to the extent that you will get caught up in it, and only peripherally notice that Anne gradually stops saying anything and calms completely down. It's an amazing piece of acting and the best part of the film.

Amour is a fine piece of work. The script, acting, directing, and camera work are all solid to excellent. Be that as it may, this is not a film where you will come out humming the title tune, so to speak. Coming out of the press screening, I recall a lot of raised eyebrows and sighs (it bears noting that I was the youngest person at the screening by at least two decades; I would be a bit down after seeing this if I were older, too). If you like films in every sense of the word, you should enjoy yourself. If you get bored easily or see a lot of Adam Sandler movies, you should probably stay away. I think Amour could actually kill an unmedicated person suffering from ADHD.


"Amour" opens January 11, 2013 and is rated PG13. Drama. Written and directed by Michael Haneke. Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Jean Louis Trintignant.

Jan
10
2013
Richard Procter • Staff Writer

Richard Procter enjoys writing words about stuff he is interested in, and has done so for a variety of publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco magazine, and Decades magazine. He has an abiding love of portmanteaus and has never had a donut. Really. 

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