Amour heads straight for the heart

Rating: ***

| February 08, 2013

DIRECTED BY Michael Haneke
STARS Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva

FATHER KNOWS BEST: Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) ignores the advice of his daughter (Isabelle Huppert) in Amour. (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
  • FATHER KNOWS BEST: Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) ignores the advice of his daughter (Isabelle Huppert) in Amour. (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

It won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It has earned Oscar nominations in five major-league categories, including Best Picture. Its writer-director and lead actress have each won or been nominated for more than a dozen international awards. Clearly, Amour, Michael Haneke and Emmanuelle Riva don't really need me to additionally sing their praises (although praise is indeed all I have), so let's discuss Jean-Louis Trintignant for a moment.

Julie Christie earned reams of awards for her portrayal of a woman suffering from Alzheimer's in 2006's Away from Her, yet for me, the best performance in that film was given by the largely overlooked Gordon Pinsent as her loving husband, a good man reacting to his wife's condition with a believable mix of empathy, kindness and helpless frustration. In Amour, a bracing, brutal study of an octogenarian couple and the final snatch of time they have together, Trintignant plays a comparable role to that of Pinsent.

Riva's character, a former music teacher named Anne, has started to wear down, more in the physical sense but a bit in the mental department as well. Her husband Georges does what he can to keep her comfortable — and, as her body continues to deteriorate, he also tries to keep her alive, refusing to allow her to give up on him, on herself or on the life they built together.

Riva's performance is indeed amazing — watching Anne's fierce pride attempt to claw its way through the vagaries of her body is heartbreaking — but no less impressive is the turn by Trintignant. Georges brooks no interference from outsiders — whether it's the caregiver who insultingly treats Anne like an infant or his own well-meaning daughter (Isabelle Huppert) — and the actor applies a testiness to his portrayal that provides it with additional heft.

Because this is a Haneke production, the man behind Cache and Funny Games doesn't forsake his usual abstractions (the ending has already been interpreted in several different ways, with no theory rising above the rest), and there's also a slight yet familiar chill that wafts through the entire movie. Yet Haneke exhibits nothing but warmth and devotion toward his central couple, and his movie ends up serving as a testimonial not only to these universal characters but also to the two French icons portraying them.


Comments (2)

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Yes this was a beautiful courageous film. Were some small percentage of our directors and producers to share the same beautiful courage our films would produce a deeper more profound world in which to swim. But I must say the story we see here portrays a suffering that is as much the product of the support these two dear old people didn't have as it did inevitable physical decline. I would have probably called this film "Amour, Together, Alone".

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Posted by Robert Jahner on 02/18/2013 at 6:24 PM

Agreed, @Robert. It hauntingly describes two who choose to walk onward together to meet and endure their fate, rather than seek medical, emotional or spiritual care in a community. It's unclear whether they see higher satisfaction, dignity and integrity in mutual dependence, or they distrust others' abilities and values, or see insult in medicating and prolonging Anne's inevitable demise. Whichever is the case they choose to trust in each other.

Would Anne receive better health and personal care in a medical institution? On one level, yes. Would she be happier? Maybe for some amount of time, but she can't seem to envision life being worth it without being able to participate in music, art, love. Would she be happier if institutional care made Georges life easier, happier? Would Georges be happier? That's a great, unanswered question of this film, but he chooses to do what he thinks will make her happier, even if that's a lesser of two evils.

The challenge of this film is the nature and role of transcendent meanings for these two individuals. Do they have anything to offer to anyone else and does that matter to either of them? Do they see any hope beyond their present physical-emotional state? Those are questions the film does not try to answer, but rather leaves each viewer to experience and appreciate the choice these two persons make in their world. Then each of us can wrestle with own life choices.

Posted by Larry D. Ramey on 02/25/2013 at 6:45 PM
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