I’ve always had a unique affection for going back and rewatching a movie for a second time, particularly movies I love. Obviously there is the satisfaction of rewatching a good film. But more than that, I love seeing if a film holds up and justifies my high praise a second time around. I love seeing if my initial enthusiasm was merited or if it has fizzled over time.
This past weekend I finally had the opportunity to revisit “Amour”. Winner of more international awards than you can count, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, “Amour” was a global attention getter. It was also one of only three films from 2012 that I gave a perfect 5 star rating. Needless to say, with such a positive original review I was really anxious to see the film would still impress me. More importantly, especially with a film like this, would the movie still pack the moving and emotional punch that it did when I first saw it in the theater? The answer is an unequivocal and resounding yes!
Michael Haneke wrote and directed “Amour” and to say I’m fascinated by his technique is an understatement. He’s a very identifiable filmmaker who has an undeniable style and never shies away from difficult subject matter. Such is the case with “Amour”, a tender yet crushing story of an elderly French couple whose lives change after the wife Anne suffers a paralyzing stroke. Her husband Georges commits to taking care of his true love even as her health slowly deteriorates. We get to see a true testament to the incredible and self-sacrificial love that so many never experience these days. We also see the reality of the harshness of life which Haneke never shortcuts.
The effect “Amour” had on me didn’t change a bit during the second viewing. I still loved Georges and Anne Laurent. I laughed with them. My heart broke with theirs. And even as their circumstances grew more difficult, I still wanted to be right there with them. A lot of that has to do with the brilliant performances. Emmanuelle Riva gives one of the most authentic and committed performances I have ever seen. Her convincing and uncompromising approach is one of the most essential and vital ingredients to the film’s success. The way she embraces Haneke’s script and direction is masterful. Not to be outdone, Jean-Louis Trintignant’s work as Georges is top-notch. Haneke wrote the script specifically for Trintignant. After a 14-year absence from cinema, the actor accepted the role and he is amazing.
Haneke is often criticized for his focus on uncomfortable things and his willingness to crush his characters under the weight of torturous circumstances. Certainly movies like “Funny Games” and “Caché” have given a hint of credibility to those arguments. That same criticism was volleyed against “Amour” by some and a linear focus on one aspect of the film could feed that. But I think that misses another strong element of the movie that gives it such an impact. Yes “Amour” is sometimes difficult to watch and it unashamedly depicts Anna’s failing health in uncomfortable ways.
But sprinkled throughout the film are those special moments – sweet and beautiful moments that the couple share which reflect their love. It may be a funny moment at the dinner table. It could be a special bedside story. These lovely scenes are critical to fully understanding what Haneke is portraying. These are the scenes that give light to the darker moments of trial and difficulty. These are the moments I cling to and that help me understand and comprehend everything else I’m seeing.
I’m also still amazed by Haneke’s technique. The director never manipulates for the sake of emotion. His camera is almost always in a state of observation. He strategically frames his shots and will leave the camera rolling allowing us to take in all that’s happening. Whether it’s long takes or his quiet and still camera, Haneke’s style is always perfectly in sync with the material. We see these techniques at work in the Laurent’s Paris apartment. In fact, other than a brief sequence at the beginning, we spend the entire movie inside the apartment confined just as they now are. By the end of the film, I knew every room and the layout was as familiar to me as to the characters.
Needless to say my opinion of “Amour” hasn’t changed one bit. It’s still the brilliant 5 star film that it was after my first viewing. It’s potent, painful, sweet, and real. These are just a few of the adjectives I could use to describe Michael Haneke’s Oscar winning gem. It’s filmmaking mastery featuring two of the best lead performances of the past several years. It paints a beautiful picture of love and a dismal picture of illness. Yet it all is interwoven to create a truly remarkable and touching experience.