Sunday, January 20, 2013

Movie Review: "Amour"

For the most part, we live in a youth-centric society, particularly where the entertainment world is concerned. Television networks care most about ratings in the cherished 18-49 demographic, classic movies and television shows are remade with stars of today to try and capture new audiences, and it is often difficult for older performers (particularly women) to get strong roles in Hollywood.

With all of those factors in mind, I wonder if Michael Haneke's emotionally powerful Amour would get the green light to be made here in the United States. Luckily, the movie is a joint production of France, Germany, and Austria, so moviegoers all over the world willing to invest their time and emotions in this movie can be richly rewarded.

Legendary French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, a long-married couple in their 80s who enjoy a peaceful, full life together. Retired music teachers, they enjoy the pleasures of classical music, and one of Anne's former piano students is a rising star. Their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), is also a musician, although her relationship with her parents is somewhat strained.

One morning during breakfast, Anne suffers some sort of attack which leaves her momentarily unresponsive, nearly catatonic. While it quickly passes, further symptoms lead to her hospitalization and a diagnosis of a blood clot. After surgery fails, she finds herself paralyzed on one side, and the once fiercely independent woman is now wheelchair bound and dependent on her husband and others for assistance with nearly everything.

Both Anne and Georges know where her condition is headed, and Anne wants none of it. She makes Georges promise she won't be hospitalized again, and expresses her desire that her life end before she deteriorates. Georges, however, does all he can to keep her comfortable and happy, even as he knows the end will come more quickly than he'd like. But he is determined to care for Anne his way, despite his physical and mental exhaustion, and the concerns of his daughter.

Amour is utterly unflinching in its portrayal of Anne's physical and emotional deterioration and the toll it takes on her and Georges. Riva gives a phenomenal performance as Anne gets physically weaker, yet her intellect and fighting spirit shine through. A scene where she refuses to yield to Georges' pleading with her to drink some water from a sippy cup is both familiar and shocking. Riva is able to communicate so much with merely looks, small gestures, and murmurs.

While Riva received an Oscar nomination (her first) for her performance, Trintignant was sadly overlooked, but his performance is truly the film's emotional center. Shuffling back and forth down the hallways of their cluttered Paris apartment, he refuses to cede control of Anne's care, even to Anne's wishes, despite the toll it is taking on him. But despite the strain he is feeling, he remains stoic almost entirely, although his emotions get the best of him in certain situations that make you tear up as you can't tear yourself away from watching.

Given the subject matter of this movie, you inherently know the path it will follow. But that doesn't lessen its emotional power or how strongly the film and its performances will resonate. It's a difficult film to watch, but one you should watch, both for Riva and Trintignant's performances, and for Haneke's restrained yet masterful direction.

Movies like this don't get made every day, especially in the U.S. But thanks to the courage of Haneke and his actors, we have the privilege to watch the twilight of Anne and Georges' relationship.

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