Film Review: Amour (2012)
If one could describe writer-director Michael Haneke’s style in one word, then it would be “deliberate.” His latest work Amour (2012), which won the coveted Palm D’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, certainly fits within the mold and yet breaks through in terms of emotion. His previous films tend to be emotionally detached, but this film is anything but, given its topic. Yet, he does not pull any punches or add any unnecessary flair or sentimentality; instead, he lets tragic story tell itself. Amour is a methodically-paced, astutely harrowing film with incredible performances that is relentlessly heartbreaking in its simplicity; it is no escapist fare, to be sure.
The film chronicles the slow deterioration of Anne and her loving husband Georges’ painful attempts to care for her. Her death is inevitable, as the opening scene shows the police discovering her dead body. The film then flashes back in time to just before Anne has a mild stroke, which she unwillingly undergoes a surgical procedure to prevent future, more debilitating strokes. However, her surgery is a failure, resulting in the paralysis of the right side of her body. Georges decides to try and care for her instead of placing her in a nursing home, but he finds it increasingly difficult both physically and emotionally to carry out his promise; it is a true test of love and endurance.
The highlight and centerpiece of the film are its exceptional lead performances, which are hauntingly natural. Emmanuelle Riva totally deserves her Oscar nomination as Anne (by the way, she is the oldest Oscar nominee, as she will turn 86 on Oscar night; as opposed to fellow nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest nominee at 9). It is not only an emotionally draining role but also a physically demanding one, given the character’s debilitating medical ailments. Likewise, Jean-Louis Trintignant is equally astonishing as Georges. He more than sufficiently conveys the myriad of emotions anyone would feel and experience in such a devastating situation. They both simultaneously make the film hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Isabelle Huppert is the only other cast member who makes more than one appearance, as she plays Anne and Georges’ grieving daughter Eva who comes to visit every so often; she also makes a solid impression.
Technically-speaking, the film is quite minimalistic, to say the least (no pun intended). Like with almost all of Haneke’s productions, the film contains virtually all static shots with countless long-takes, oftentimes without an actor in frame. It definitely sets the tone and drains the audience, but intentionally so – we are drawn into the Parisian apartment (where almost all of the film takes place) and are meant to feel closed up in it and the distressing situation along with Georges. While a few digetic musical pieces play here and there, no cinematic flair is added, nor is it really needed, lest it become a manipulative, sentimental movie a la The Notebook. Rather, Amour is a focused reflective and naturalistic piece that relies on its amazing actors and down-to-earth, albeit depressing, story to wow the audience.
The major issue, though a deliberate and purposeful/effective choice, is regarding the pacing. It is a drawn-out film with portions that drag (i.e. paintings sequence). Again, though, this effectively conveys the tone and relates Georges’ prolonged struggle with the audience. Still, it will test even the most ardent film fans patience at times, and there is a intense/graphic scene late in the film (as well as a quietly upsetting nightmare scene); so beware.
Amour is not an easy film by any standards. It is a beautifully heartbreaking portrait of true love, as the title is simply apt, particularly in the midst of one’s final days. It is a tragic piece that will absorb patient viewers and take them down a depressing path and never let go. Any viewer can relate to the story as the film is a completely naturalistic piece, yet it rises above the ordinary or unassuming nature and becomes indelible or impossible to forget. Amour may be simple but it is extremely compelling and even profound in its simplicity; indeed, it is a masterful work that deserves to be seen even if it will break your heart.
Amour – 9/10