By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Michael Haneke has made a career of directing brutal, unflinching examinations of the human condition, ranging from dark allegories of a populace gone mad on the eve of World War (The White Ribbon) to genre-subverting examinations of the intersection of violence and media (Funny Games). With Amour, he finds his most harrowing subject yet, one that eventually faces us all.
Unless you’re James Dean-lucky
Amour follows a content, loving married couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) whose routine is derailed by Riva’s stroke. This begins a long, slow, painful decline for Riva that Trintignant is helpless in the face of, even as he struggles to aid her in any way he can.
There is never any doubt where this is going, as Haneke boldly begins the film with firefighters breaking down the door to the elderly couple’s apartment and discovering Riva’s flower-covered corpse. Amour (French for ‘love’, which you probably knew already, you sharp Sid or Sally, you) is all about the journey to this point. Haneke eschews dramatic plotting and intricate directorial tics (although he does have a few tricks up his sleeve) to focus on Riva and Trintignant’s titanic performances. Both long ago established their bona fides, but arguably have been never better than this.
Back when you might have wanted to see them in the shower
Riva recently became the oldest Best Actress nominee ever, and rightly so, impeccably portraying both the physical decline and the psychological dilemma of her character as she faces the end. Trintignant won’t end up with any hardware, but is no less accomplished, as he struggles with the idea of losing his lifelong companion and his inability to ease her way. It’s in his performance, as he haltingly puts her in her wheelchair or helps her off the toilet, that the movie earns its title.
Even with its foregone conclusion, Haneke is able to build a measure of tension, from the original stroke scene that is as nerve-racking and full of dread as any horror film sequence this year all the way to a climax that genuinely surprised me. While it was unexpected when he finally was nominated by the Academy for his directing, it’s entirely deserved.
The one nitpick I have, which took me out of the film at times, is the very artsy French film tendency towards abstract, off-subject conversations bordering on the pretentious. They don’t occur often, and help establish the characters, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.
This incredibly acted, painfully realistic, and absolutely heartbreaking tale of aging and impending mortality is one of the year’s finest.
Take a Drink: whenever you see a pigeon
Take a Drink: every time mortality is discussed
Take a Drink: every time Trintignant helps Riva with something
Do a Shot: every time that breaks your heart a little