is the ultimate leveler. It comes for
all and unless the pharaohs were right, you cannot take it with you. For years, one French couple lived a life of
privilege and refinement. However, the
diseases of old age will rob them of their dignity and comfort in Michael
Haneke’s Amour (trailer here), which opens this
Wednesday in New York at Film Forum.
by Austria as their official foreign language Academy Award submission, the
Palme d’Or winning Amour is a French
language film, set almost entirely in a Parisian flat, featuring two of the
most acclaimed French actors of their generation: Jean-Louis Trintignant and
Emmanuelle Riva. At least, Haneke is Austrian. Nevertheless, it qualifies under the Academy’s
stringent rules for best foreign language features. In fact, it is an acknowledged frontrunner.
Amour’s themes and big name cast are
distinctly Oscar-friendly, but this is a Haneke film, not On Golden Pond. The emotions
are darker and the sentiment will be hard earned. Viewers initially meet Anne and Georges
during a moment of triumph. They have
returned from a high profile concert given by Anne’s last and greatest music
student, Alexandre, which they attended as his guests. Unfortunately, soon after they return, Anne’s
health begins to fail in a dramatic but protracted manner.
slightly forgetful Georges is rather stunned to find himself in the caregiver
role, but he does his best. It is
difficult though, both for him and Anne, as Haneke illustrates in a series of small
but punishing scenes. Of course, the
framing device forewarns the audience Amour
will end in tragedy, but how the couple reaches that point is the whole point
of the film.
say a good film can never be a downer and that is true, but as accomplished as Amour’s performances
are, it probably should be avoided by those prone to depression. The human frailty displayed by Trintignant
and Riva is rather shocking, especially given their indelible cinematic images
from classics like A Man and a Woman and
Hiroshima mon amour. Riva’s work is particularly brave, revealing her
character’s pain and degradation, both physically and emotionally.
it is a less showy a performance, the bitter honesty of Trintignant’s Georges arguably
represents the film’s true essence.
Though it is a thankless supporting role, Isabelle Huppert is still perfectly
cast as their icily detached grown child Eva.
Classical pianist Alexandre Tharaud also has some touching moments as
his namesake, who might be a better son-like figure than Eva ever was as their
Compared to some of Haneke’s previous work, Amour is distinctly sympathetic to his
characters, but considering the unflinching focus he trains on them, “sensitive”
might not be the most apt descriptive term for the film. Aesthetically, it is also quite
distinctive. Production designer
Jean-Vincent Puzos’s flat is elegantly photogenic and cinematographer Darius
Khondji gives it all a gauzy, sophisticated look. Yet, forcing us to bear witness to Georges
and Anne’s intimate misery seems to be the extent of Haneke’s agenda. Recommended with respect (rather than
affection) for emotionally robust Francophiles and those who appreciate
dramatic showcases, Amour opens this
Wednesday (12/19) at Film Forum.
Labels: 85th Academy Awards Foreign Language Submissions, Emmanuelle, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Michael Haneke, Riva