Amour is the kind of film least likely to be made in Hollywood. It is no escape. It offers no hope and no solutions. Most filmmakers would be risking career atrophy pitching this to a studio executive. Screenwriting gurus tell newbies they can never hope to get a film like this produced. It examines what most people want to avoid examining. But for people who like movies about people -- where women participate completely -- it is one of the most rewarding films ever made.
Michael Haneke wrote and directed Amour. He is Austrian, but the film takes place in France, in French with English subtitles. The film takes you into those dark places. And yet…Amour is brilliant and uplifting in how it authenticly depicts this part of life and how the actors connect you with the characters. The journey works because Haneke is not a commercial filmmaker but works directly from his understanding of truth and how art can make it beautiful. He does not give us what we want to buy, he gives us what we need. No matter how happy and entertained any of us want to be, what we need more than anything is to share emotional experiences. If done authentically, the result is always rewarding.
Anne and Georges Laurent are the people with whom Haneke wants us to connect. They are in their 80’s and a happily married couple. It’s obvious they’ve had their squabbles and their ways of irritating each other, but nothing would make them want to be with anyone else. They live in a fine Paris apartment, share a passion for music and culture and enjoy the fruits of their lives. Then Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) has a stroke, and everything changes. Their married daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is concerned, but too self-involved to offer much practical help. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) examines his options, and decides that caring for Anne at home, is the best option either of them can accept.
This is the rawest edge of love, when loving someone becomes hard work and sacrifice with no promise of better things to come, and when it must endure a whole new series of tests.
Emmanuelle Riva has been nominated in the Best Actress Oscar category for this performance and has already won Best Actress at the European Film Awards. Jean-Louis Trintignant who won Best Actor in the European Film Awards also, deserves to have been nominated but the Best Actor category. They are the ones who must take us through their characters’ journey in a way that will not repel us or disengage us, but will keep our hearts open and interest riveted.
Trintignant also bears the cross of the surviving spouse very convincingly. He feels the horrible inadequacy of the caregiver spouse, the inability to change the circumstances, the understandable desire to run from all this, although he would never do so. He has to risk being hated by his wife who now surrenders her dignity and independence to him. She only hates herself now and can only hate his caring. He has to watch her become somebody he has never known before. He has to struggle with understanding how much her life is worth to her and what he must do to ensure her greatest comfort. Life is lived a minute at a time here, with no idea what perspective the next moment will bring. No plans anymore, even for next week.
Unless we are fortunate to die quickly, all we will this point in our lives. Personally, I would rather face the experience by watching a movie like Amour, then avoid it and go through it as a rank amateur when my time, or that of those close to me, comes. That’s how great cinema works. That’s Amour.
Whatever reservations Hollywood would have about making such a film, the members of the Academy have named it in the Best Picture, Best Foreign Language, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Director categories. At the time of this posting it has won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.It will probably win Best Foreign Language because foreign language movies are allowed to be “real” in ways commercial American films are not.
Links to: Excerpts from Amour and video interview with Michael Haneke, NY Times interview with Emmanuelle Riva