REVIEW: “Amour”

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One of my most eagerly anticipated films to see has been Michael Haneke’s “Amour”. The 70-year-old Haneke is a director I’ve grown to admire even though I leave some of his films frustrated. He can seem infatuated with suffering and misery and his love for ambiguous endings can be testing. For example, after recently watching his 2005 film “Caché” I found myself growling at the open-ended finale. But soon after I found myself thinking more on the movie and what Haneke was going for. That’s when I really began to appreciate the film. Such is the case with several Michael Haneke pictures.

His latest movie is “Amour”, a French language drama that has blown critics away and garnered 6 Academy Award nominations. Haneke is no stranger to critical acclaim but make no mistake, he deserves every ounce of praise he has received for this stirring and often times devastating masterpiece. Like many of his pictures, it’s not a movie you can say you thoroughly enjoy watching. “Amour” deals with some depressing but very real subject matter and Haneke’s ability to express it all is astounding. He was able to get me so emotionally invested that I cared about every single thing I was seeing on the screen.

But the film would never work without its two phenomenal lead performances. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne Laurent, a happily married couple, both in their eighties, living in Paris. We see some beautiful scenes of them together as they enjoy a night out at a concert and share conversations at the breakfast table. I instantly knew that these two people had been in love for a long time. But it’s at that breakfast table where Anne suddenly goes quiet and just stares straight ahead for several minutes. It turns out that she has what appears to be a stroke and after surgery she’s left paralyzed on her right side.

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Georges brings Anne back home to take care of her and promises that he’ll never take her back to the hospital or send her to a hospice facility. This doesn’t sit well with their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) who has a few clashes with Georges over the decision. Sadly Anne’s condition worsens and Georges has to face the reality that his wife may not get better. This is difficult but reality-based stuff and the film never pulls any punches in dealing with it. We see the simplest of things become increasingly difficult for Anne and we see Georges right by her side through it all. We watch them go through something that so many others have experienced and that ability to relate is one thing that makes this such a powerful picture.

I hinted at the great performances by the two leads. Well with all due respect to every other female performance of 2012, and that includes Oscar front-runners Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain, no one gave a more stunning and committed performance than Emmanuelle Riva. She took my breath away. She gives this performance everything she has and that’s a key ingredient to making it work. There was never a moment in the film where I didn’t believe in what she was doing. And then there’s Trintignant who has a much different role but an equally essential and compelling one. He offers that same authenticity as Riva and for me watching him handle this material was a huge part of my experience.

I also have to take time to talk about Haneke’s technique. I loved how he opened the movie. We get one brief scene that sets the table for everything to come. In a sense Haneke shows his hand before playing his cards. But the true power of this film is in what follows and the opening scene allows us to put our focus where it should be. There’s also no musical score at all. This frees the movie from any potential emotional manipulation that music can sometimes bring. Haneke brings every ounce of his emotion from the characters. Now personally I would have liked a smart and subtle score but it’s absence does nothing to detract from the film.

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You’ll also notice that almost the entire movie takes place inside their Paris apartment. With the exception of the early sequence where they go to a concert, we spend the entire time in the apartment with them. During that time I felt I knew their home as well as they did. I know where their living room is. I know how their kitchen is laid out. I know their foyer, their halls, their bathroom, and their bedroom. This did a couple of things for me. It gave me a sense of place but it also relays the confinement they now experience. Anna’s illness has restricted them to the apartment where they even depend on good neighbors to get their groceries for them. Haneke also uses his familiar technique of setting his camera and then watching things unfold. Often times he’ll extend his shots which force us to take in some of the painful moments while at other times enjoying and appreciating the peaceful ones. I found this to be very effective.

And then you have the ending. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, anyone familiar with a Michael Haneke picture has to be prepared for the ending. Sometimes they’re nice and tidy but other times they can be abrupt and ambiguous. In “Amour” he ends it just right, well almost. There’s an incredibly moving moment that felt like the perfect ending to this film and essentially it is. But then he tacks on an extra minute-long scene. Now this brief final moment does carry some weight in itself and it does nothing to undo the previous scene. But it did have me wondering where it fit in chronologically. For me, he could have trimmed this scene and still have a near perfect ending. But it’s such a minor thing considering how incredible this film is as a whole.

Speaking of perfect, “Amour” is the perfect title for this film. This is a story of true love – a love between a husband and wife that only grew stronger through the many years they experienced together. It’s a love that’s taken for granted today and it’s often times treated so flippantly. But Haneke shows how precious it is and even in the face of this particular heartbreak it’s that love which shines brightest. There is an examination of cruelty and of suffering and there may be a bit of trickery going on. But for me it all came back to the deep love between this couple. I’ve thought a lot about this film since seeing it. I’ve thought about my marriage and growing old with my wife. I’ve thought about that cherished relationship that we share. Then I thought about Anne and Georges. They help us understand and appreciate the loyalty and self-sacrifice that comes with such a beautiful relationship. That my friends is amour.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

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30 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Amour”

  1. Outstanding review sir. We must be synchronised at the moment. As you were telling me yesterday of a rare 5star review, I had just finished watching this. It’s a magnificent film and deserving of the praise and awards it’s recieved. Totally agree on that little tacked on moment at the end. Other than that the movie was perfect in every way.

    • Wasn’t it beautiful and tragic? A story of the cruelty of life and the power of true love. Haneke rarely tells a straightforward story so there are themes that are in Amour. So much to digest. Loved this picture. Thanks man!

      • I was blown away with how his technique worked so well with this story. He uses several of his old tricks and here they seem made for this film. The extended shots, still cameras, etc. And then there are scenes permeated with meaning. I keep going back to the pigeon that flies through the window. So much to think on.

      • I didn’t fully understand the pigeon. I’ve still got a lot to think about. Such a well crafted film that can be taken as you see it but under the surface, there’s so much more. A definite top 5 of the year.

  2. Nice review. This is my favorite out of all the best picture nominees and just a great film in general. I got to watch this in a film festival a few months ago and actually got to meet Michael Haneke. He really is a great director and I hope he wins Best Director.

  3. Wow, you got me real curious now Keith! I actually mentioned this one in my Marriage post even though I haven’t seen it. I hope that my hubby and I would take care of each other forever too… 😀 Great review Keith!

    • I remember you mentioning it. I promise you, if you had seen it prior to the post you would have written about it. It’s cinematic brilliance. It’s crushing yet heartwarming. Plus Haneke puts so many little subtle themes in the picture. It really blew me away. It can be a tough watch but worth every second. And Emmanuelle Riva…WOW!

  4. Good review. I was mildy excited to see this, as I like Haneke’s other work, but I couldn’t find myself to really go and watch it immediately. Your review, however, has made me a little more excited and I just may have to watch it before Sunday’s awards. Good job, Keith.

    • Thanks Nick! It’s not an easy watch just because of the subject matter. But it is so well done and Haneke’s technique works perfectly. Be sure to let me know what you think after you catch up with it.

  5. Keith, I would one to cry with your review, outstanding, im so happy that you gave Amour 5 stars, I agree on review, and that when the pillow scene, i cried a river after the film, and Keith ready for the upset on Sunday, Riva will win. 🙂 great review anyway.

    • Thanks so much. I had to give “Amour” 5 Stars. At first I was at 4.5 stars but the more I thought about the film the more I appreciated it.

      Oh, and while I still think Jennifer Lawrence will win the Oscar, I’ll be rooting with you for Riva! She was amazing wasn’t she?

  6. Saw this last weekend and felt very much the same way you do. I am not familiar with the director’s other work, but I could tell from the clips and trailers I saw of Funny Games, both versions, that I would not care for them. I was afraid that I would have a “Tree of Life” moment here, but the film ends up working very well. I noticed the long shots but was drawn into the characters by them instead of irritated by them. The absence of music forces us to live this movie in a very different way than other films.

    Somewhere I saw a complaint on another blog that declared it’s not a movie. I thought there was a clear story arc for both characters and that it played out in a way that allowed us to understand the two leads better. Both performances are amazing. I would not be surprised at an upset this weekend at the AA.

    It’s always easy to compliment someone who agrees with you, but I thought your write up was excellent.

    • Thank you very, very much for the kind words. I agree with you, I felt there were two definite stories, both connected but both different. I thought it was bold movie in that it never takes shortcuts but forces us to watch and feel what’s taking place. That only works because we believe in and invest in the characters. The performances make that an easy thing to do.

      There’s a lot more going on in this picture than some people may think. You just have to look a little deeper. It’s a tough watch but I can’t wait to see it again.

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  9. Fantastic review Keith. Really well written and beautifully captures the heart and soul of Amour. This should be printed and distributed with the DVD/Blu-ray for anyone wanting to better understand the film. This is my favourite work from Haneke.

    • Wow! Thank you very much. It’s easy to find things to say about the movies your love and I really lived Amour. I barely caught up with it before Oscar time but I’m so glad I did.

  10. Pingback: Revisiting “Amour” | Keith & the Movies

  11. Just read this and your ‘revisiting’ post too – you really do it justice! Completely agree on your points, and I believe Riva should have won Best Actress, but never mind. It’s a fabulous performance, and that’s what matters most.

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