Movie Review ~ Amour (Love)

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The Facts:

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

Rated: PG-13

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.

The Silver Bullet ~ Amour (Love)

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Synopsis: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

Release Date:  December 19, 2012

Thoughts: Winner of the highest honor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Amour is the latest film directed by Michael Haneke…a fascinating director that never seems to make the same film twice.  All of his movies have provoked a strong reaction from me (both good and bad) and even though I may not always leave the theater happy I know I’ve seen the work of someone pretty talented.  This love story is also gaining buzz because star Emmanuelle Riva looks poised to become the oldest Best Actress Oscar nominee ever.  She’ll have some stiff competition from Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) and Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) but any performance with this kind of buzz makes the movie itself required viewing.

Down From the Shelf ~ Falling In Love

The Facts:

Synopsis: Commuting to Manhattan on the same train, two married strangers meet by accident and have an affair.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Dianne Wiest, Jane Kaczmarek

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  In 1984 Streep and DeNiro were already on their way into the history books of movie performances.  She had already won two Oscars and was coming off the success of Silkwood.  He was riding the great reviews of The King of Comedy and Once Upon a Time in America.  So it’s odd then, that these two actors took a chance on this slightly slight romantic drama which ended up not really going anywhere.

Both play married people that meet by chance on a commuter train into Manhattan.  There is your typical “meet cute” that turns into an infatuation and then more.  What Streep and DeNiro do with these roles is to give them real weight and pathos.  You see decisions on their faces and consequences cross their minds in a way that lesser actors wouldn’t bother going displaying.  They really do make the movie work better than it probably should and it makes this an interesting entry on their resumes.

It’s not that the movie is without value.  Even though it’s classified overall as a drama, there is a certain breeziness to the proceedings that make it quite watchable.  Maybe it’s the jazzy score by Dave Grusin or the unobtrusive direction by Grosbard.  Michael Cristofer’s script has some zip to it and both our leads deliver it well.  It has a few unexpected moments as well – such as DeNiro’s response to Streep asking him “Is there anything you want to know about me?”  What he asks isn’t quite polite but it’s a breath of fresh air.

Supporting performances by Keitel and Weist give this a very When Harry Met Sally… feeling and I wonder if Falling in Love didn’t inspire some of that later film.  Fans of Streep and DeNiro would probably enjoy this, as well as anyone looking for a romantic drama with some unexpected pedigree to it.

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