Amour is a movie made up of scenes most filmmakers would cut.
By DAVID FRESE
The Kansas City Star
The Oscar-nominated French-language film follows an older man struggling to care for his ailing wife. The camera lingers as they sit, lie awake, read in bed, shave, shower, sleep.
The title Amour implies a heart-warming story of devotion, but the film is more intellectual exercise than tear-jerker. In many ways, its a horror film, as the woman descends into helplessness, and like the audience the man can only watch.
Its a potent piece of filmmaking. But of all the best picture nominees, only Django Unchained is tougher to watch and Quentin Tarantinos ultra-violent slave Western is easier to recommend.
After a short prologue, writer/director Michael Haneke begins with the only scene outside the couples apartment: an audience gathering for a concert. The camera stares from the stage as the patrons seat themselves and fill the house. The concert begins, and we jump to people standing in line to speak to the performer. Cut to a couple coming home, hanging up their coats, making idle chitchat as they ready themselves for bed.
The point here is the routine. These are average people going about their average lives.
The next morning as the couple sit down for breakfast, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) goes blank. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) wets a cloth to wipe her face. She doesnt react.
Slowly, he decides to get up from the table. He shuffles down the hallway to his bedroom to dress. Then he hears dishes clanking in the kitchen sink. Anne has snapped out of it but doesnt remember zoning out.
In the next scene, Georges wheels Anne into the apartment. Weve skipped the emotional doctors visit and subsequent surgery. Just back to the new normal. He helps her to bed. Anne tells Georges he mustnt hover.
You dont have to hold my hand all the time, she assures him
Georges leaves the bedroom, and with her right arm paralyzed, Anne uses her left to open a book and read.
And so it goes. We dont know anything of the couple, really. We infer shes had a stroke (theres a small discussion of blood vessels). We infer theyre married (they have a daughter played by Isabelle Huppert). We infer Anne was a piano teacher (a former student drops in for a surprise visit, which she doesnt appreciate as her condition has deteriorated).
That the film isnt deadly dull is credit to director Haneke and his performers.
Though Rivas best-actress nomination may have been a surprise, its absolutely deserved. Its truly painful to watch as she transforms Anne from elegant matron to angry patient to bedridden invalid. Georges struggles with his wifes decline, but Trintignant internalizes this fight, showing fear in his face, not his actions.
When Anne angrily worries that she is a burden, Georges says, You inflict nothing on me.
Their relationship feels so real, at times the film seems like documentary. In an early scene, Anne asks Georges to take her to the living room. In one long take, Georges wheels her into her room, parks her wheelchair next to her armchair and lifts her up. In embrace, they shuffle, slowly, right to left, until they are in front of her chair. And as delicately as he can, he sets her down. Like the film itself, the scene is an unblinking look at our own small and fragile humanity.
Haneke directed the 1997 Austrian film Funny Games (and its 2007 American remake), a hard-to-watch horror story about a family attacked and tortured by a couple of young upper-class thugs.
Both Funny Games and Amour focus on the mundane, until the extreme intrudes. Both are strangely voyeuristic. Both are agonizing to watch.
But Amour is scarier. A home invasion is rare. We all have to face our own mortality.
(At the Glenwood at Red Bridge, Rio, Tivoli, Town Center.)
The French Amour is the overwhelming favorite for the Academy Award for foreign language film. Its also nominated for best picture, actress (Emmanuelle Riva), director and original screenplay (both Michael Haneke pronounced like Hanukkah). But the chances in those major categories are slim to none. The Oscar ceremony is Feb. 24.
What others are saying
• Tom Long, Detroit News: Masterfully made and thoroughly soul-shattering, Amour turns an unblinking eye on old age and human decay.
• Lisa Kennedy, Denver Post: Shot by cinematographer Darius Khondji, the rooms and hallways suggest both a haunted emptiness and a place infused with its inhabitants presence.
• Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: The films two principal actors, both veterans of French cinema whose careers date back to the 1950s, inhabit their characters with a raw, fearless honesty.
• Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald: This is the sort of small, intimate drama about unpleasant subject matter Hollywood rarely deals with.