Synopsis: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. One day, Anne has an attack that will test the couple’s bond of love.
Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Director: Michael Haneke
Running Length: 127 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I’m familiar enough with the films of director Haneke to know what kind of experience the director likes to give his audience…that experience being one of cautious discovery and exploration that goes against the typical rhythms of the majority of films released on US soil. You can attribute that to Haneke hailing from a country (Germany) with its own storied film history that for a time was focused on serious expressionism and detachment.
In Haneke films like Funny Games (both the original and Haneke’s own scene for scene US remake), The Piano Teacher, Cache, and previous Oscar nominee The White Ribbon the director takes his time and lets his characters unfold before us much like people do in real life. In long, uninterrupted takes he lets the camera capture true moments of quiet, danger, pain, and love…all which are on display in his latest film Amour.
Though Haneke has explored relationships from numerous angles before, Amour is perhaps his most gentle examination of the bond two people share and the lengths we’ll go to shield someone we love from grief. Winner of the prestigious Palme D’Or at the Cannes film festival, the movie has been working a slow burn through smaller theaters as more people are discovering its fierce power.
It’s not an easy film to get through, only because it’s a strikingly intense portrait of the downward health spiral of one half of a long-married couple. Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Oscar nominee Riva) are enjoying the golden years of their lives, attending concerts, having dinner and still enjoying each other’s company throughout. Then Anne suffers the first of several strokes and that’s where the relationship changes. As Anne’s condition deteriorates, Georges can only watch as the woman he’s loved fades away.
Though the film is peppered with secondary characters (including longtime Haneke favorite Huppert as the needy daughter of Georges and Anne), Amour is squarely a two-hander between Trintignant and Riva. Though Riva is the one that has been called out for most of the award season accolades, it’s a shame Trintignant isn’t on the list with her. The success of Riva’s performance isn’t entirely dependent on Trintignant but there is a symbiosis that has occurred here in which both feed off of each other marvelously.
At 85, Riva is the oldest Best Actress Academy Award nominee in history and it’s well earned. It’s a genius performance both physically and emotionally…and entirely agonizing to watch. Trintignant does have to watch most of it as his character tries with all his might to make things easier for everyone, only to be faced with a decision no one wants to make.
Haneke’s script is filled with intimate scenes, many of them without dialogue and filmed in very long and wide angles. What I always enjoy about his films is how they linger longer than they have to just to offset our expectations as to what’s going to happen next. It’s a slight form of manipulation that he finesses to bring about more honesty in the characters and story.
Though I loved Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Silver Linings Playbook, work like the kind Riva does in Amour comes along once in a lifetime. It’s a tough call between the two but ideally the Oscar will go to Riva for a monumental achievement. Though the film is very bleak and dark, Riva and Trintignant are lights of dignity in Haneke’s superior work.