daniel cohen looks at the Oscar contender…
Plot: Now old and retired, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) live a simple and quiet life. But when Anne gets severely ill, Georges must care for her as she gets progressively worse each day.
Amour…the feel good movie of the year! Yeah, if there’s a Sarcasm Hall-of-Fame, that statement would be a first ballet induction. Wow, this is depressing. And I’m talking Darren Aronofsky-level depression here. This is a tough film to sit through. This movie is literally watching somebody slowly deteriorate and die for two hours. But aside from the subject matter, I am deeply impressed with this film because it’s a premise that could have been excruciatingly boring and pretentious, yet director Michael Haneke makes it work, keeping you engaged from start to finish.
Now I have to admit, one of the first scenes really had me worried. It’s 2-3 minutes of watching people take their seats in a music hall from the point of view of the stage. It serves no purpose. As this scene dragged on, I said to myself, ‘Oh, here we go. Artsy pretentious city, thy name is Amour. But after this little debacle, we settle into the two main characters at home, and we’re off and running.
Right from the start, these characters have instant chemistry. The actors play well off each other, the dialogue is succinct, so right away you buy into the couple’s great love for each other, making the emotional trauma we all know is coming worth investing in. And the film wastes no time. Anne gets sick. Anne gets diagnosed. And here we go.
What’s incredible about this movie is that it really is just watching Georges take care of his wife. That’s it. We watch him get a special bed ready, he puts her medication on the bedside table, he tucks her in, etc. This is literally the movie. And it’s not like we get these big scenes of riveting dialogue, or deep philosophical discussions between the two characters, or even the inevitable shouting between a husband and wife. They just have very standard conversations as we watch them go through this depressing ordeal. Anne literally talks to Georges about things like, ‘you should leave for the day to go to your friend’s funeral.’ Or Georges talks to Anne about hiring a couple nurses. The entire movie takes place in one location, a simple apartment. This movie has no reason to work, but the way Haneke puts it together, it just does. I can’t explain it.
The two main actors are great, and carry the film perfectly. I don’t think either of them have any ‘holy shit’ acting moments, but they are consistently great all the way through. Emmanuelle Riva is just in pain throughout this whole movie, and does what great actors do – shows it all in the facial expressions.
Now unfortunately, the real weakness of the film comes into play when it’s not focused on Georges and Anne. To stretch this movie out, the script shoe-horns in other plot lines that just don’t work. There’s this whole thing with the daughter Eva played by Isabelle Huppert, and her dysfunctional family life that I just don’t care about, and neither does the movie. Yet we have to watch an entire conversation about it between Eva and Georges. There’s a scene where Anne’s favorite music student comes back to visit that falls flat. It serves the purpose of demonstrating that Anne’s past life is officially gone, but the scene warms out it’s welcome. And most egregiously, the film veers back into pretentious land as a bird flies into the apartment as Georges tries to catch it. This goes on for about five minutes. I guess it serves the purpose of Georges going stir crazy, and the bird represents a distraction. But this drags on for way too long, and felt like nothing more than a pretentious metaphor.
If the film cut out these unnecessary side stories, it could have been a tighter 90 minute movie of just Georges and Anne, making it much more powerful. And even though Haneke does a great job of keeping a depressing and boring premise engaging, there does come a point where you say, ‘okay, let’s wrap this up.’ And just as you start thinking that, the movie makes a choice in the third act that is even more depressing then you thought it was going to be, but it comes off as way too forced. Now this twist doesn’t completely derail the ending, because there were a couple subtle hints here and there, but it makes you feel like the two hours you invested in one of the characters was sort of a waste of time, but I won’t spoil it. Seriously, if you see this movie, brace yourself for a ‘Really…they did that!’ type ending.
I respect this movie a lot, and compliment the director and two main actors for pulling off a very challenging story. But two warnings I would heed for an audience member: One is the twist ending I mentioned before, and two, be ready with the tissues. This is a solid well-made film that surprisingly doesn’t bore you, but at times, it’s unpleasant.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)