PLOT: Georges (Jean-Louis Tritignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) seem to be weathering the transition to old age better than most. Two former piano teachers, they spend their days going to concerts, listening to music, and gently teasing each other about their age. Most importantly, theyre still devoted to each other. One morning, Anne has a stroke, and a subsequent operation leaves her partially paralyzed. From there- her health gets worse and worse, and George steadfastly refuses to commit her to an old age home, making her care his personal mission in life. But is his love a match for the ravages of time?
REVIEW: Michael Hanekes AMOUR makes the similarly themed AWAY FROM HER look like AIRPLANE by comparison. Thats not a dig at Sarah Polleys film, which is great in its own right, but Hanekes AMOUR is an absolute ordeal. Remember that lyric from The Whos My Generation- I hope I die before I get old? Well, after watching AMOUR I cant help but think they were on to something.
Then again, as my Grandmother always tells me, getting old isnt for wimps- and George and Annes steadfast determination to stay independent is in its own way inspiring- despite its inevitable end. AMOUR starts with the police bursting in to George and Annes apartment finding Anna lying dead in bed, her head surrounded by flower petals. What happened? From there- Haneke shows us, in a 130 minute ordeal that left me drained emotionally- no doubt Hanekes intention. I can certainly see why it won the "palme d'or" at Cannes.
The acting is superb. Essentially its a two hander, being confined (mostly) to Georges and Annes apartment. Both aged actors are former French New Wave stars. Riva starred in Alain Resnais HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, while Tritignant is a French icon, having starred in movies like THE CONFORMIST. The day before watching AMOUR, I happened to see his spaghetti western, THE GREAT SILENCE at the revival house in my neighborhood, and comparing the lean, Eastwood-style hero from that film to his octogenarian figure in AMOUR is striking. Yet in his own way, George- in his very human struggle is just as heroic as Silence. Make no mistake; Haneke is not making THE NOTEBOOK. When Annes decline starts to get really bad, his frustration is fully explored- but Id wager that throughout he acts better than 99.9% of us would do in his placem although theres nothing artificial about it. Tritignant is incredible, and sorely deserving of an Oscar nomination.
As for Riva- shes just as brilliant, in an incredibly physically demanding role on an eighty-something actress. Riva has to affect a woman partially paralyzed, and then one who can barely speak, and finally one thats deep into dementia. Shes heart-breaking, but through it all- the inner beauty of her character shines thorough. Like Tritignant, she certainly deserves an Oscar nomination.
Of course, AMOUR is a very difficult film at times, and among the grimmest movies Ive seen in a while. Hanekes not exactly known for his light touch, but even something like THE WHITE RIBBON seems almost lighthearted in comparison to this. Once things start getting bad, theres no relief. As Georges predicts in the film, things will get steadily worse until it comes to its inevitable end. Certainly the same is true of AMOUR. But- while I cant say its a film I enjoyed, its one Im happy I saw, and certainly something that needs to be seen.
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