With Amour, which, for those who are either ignorant or completely inept in foreign languages, is French for love, director Michael Haneke became only the seventh director or directing team to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes twice. That’s a hell of an achievement, but watching Amour, one can’t help but understand why they decided to give this the top prize. This ended up being one of those few foreign films to get multiple nominations at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and for some reason, I couldn’t help but feel that, had this been an American film, it would have won the top prize over Argo. It is very, very good, but unfortunately just toes the line of unwatchability.
Georges and Anne are an elderly couple living on their own in Paris; their daughter Eva occasionally stops by, but the couple are mostly left to their own lives. Their routine is shaken one morning when Anne suffers a stroke at the breakfast table, not responding to Georges and later having no memory of the incident. She undergoes surgery, but the operation ends up with complications, and Anne is left paralyzed on her right side. The two are thus forced to reconfigure their daily routine, as well as find out once again how much they mean to each other, especially when Anne’s condition starts to worsen. First off, this film stars two legends of French cinema, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva; Trintignant had even been away from the screen for 14 years, but came back specifically to do this film and work with Haneke. That alone would be enough to sell this film, but it’s thanks to this duo that the film works as well as it does, as both of them are nothing short of excellent. Riva in particular has most of the harder work, especially as her condition worsens and Anne can barely be fed or speak legibly, and it is little wonder that, even for a foreign film, she got nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, becoming the oldest nominee in the history of the category. But most of the actual weight, of caring for Anne and conveying the emotional strain of the relationship, falls on Trintignant, and his extremely subtle interpretation of Georges’ nature and mentality in the face of what happens to his loved one is stellar, especially near the end when we finally realize the lengths to which he loves his wife. Many have accused Michael Haneke’s filmmaking style to be rather cold, and unfortunately, I had this in mind when I watched this film, and I found myself agreeing with it to an extent. On the other hand, I suspect Haneke has made the film the way he has to keep the emphasis on the characters and their interactions, and thus keep the emphasis on the relationship between Georges and Anne as it undergoes this incredible trial. It’s minimalist, and reserved, but the characters themselves are not without depth and complexity, which makes up for what may be perceived as a lack of emotion in the filmmaking itself. I will say that the film does plod along at a rather leisurely pace, which will make for some pretty boring viewing for some, and I probably wouldn’t begrudge those people very much; it’s a foreign film, after all. Just know that the film is very, very careful, and may indeed be longer than it needs to be.
Like I said in the opener, this was really very good, but it was just too slow to really achieve greatness for me. The lack of music (aside from the occasional piano CD played on screen) really emphasized what I think was going on with this film in terms of those who laud it exponentially; people take a lack of something in a film to conversely mean that there is an overabundance of that very thing, when they don’t realize that they are mostly filling in the blanks of what should be there with their own feelings and emotions. Does this a masterpiece make? Not to me, no; the film should have these emotions within it, instead of a hollow, featureless emptiness that people take to be something it’s not. I don’t want to dissuade you from seeing Amour, but neither would I want to persuade you to experience something you may not enjoy experiencing, just because so many other people are essentially filling in not just the cracks, but the empty gaping voids that the film deliberately leaves open just so that these people can do exactly what they need to do to appreciate a film that basically gives it nothing. Masterfully made, I will give it points for that, but I wasn’t fully convinced that this wasn’t essentially other people making a big deal for the sake of making a big deal because everyone else was making a big deal.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10