Amour (2012): Written and directed by Michael Haneke. Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva. Rated PG-13 for: language, brief nudity, some adult content. Running Time: 127 minutes
Review: 3/4 Stars
Amour is the most basic, bare-bones movie I’ve seen from 2012. As nearly all of you have probably garnered from the fair bit of attention it’s gotten (in addition to Best Foreign Language Film, it’s received Oscar nominations for Director, Screenplay, Actress, and Best Film, an unusual honor for a foreign film), Amour revolves entirely around an elderly couple, Anne and Georges, and their struggles when the wife begins an accelerated decline into physical (and possibly mental) impotence.
And that really is the entire film- how the two, both individually and as a couple, are forced to confront the inevitability of old age and death. There are a handful of other characters, some with names, some without, but their sporadic appearances are meant merely to reiterate the wife’s rapid decline and to remind the husband what his limited options in handling her situation are. Aside from the very beginning, the movie is set exclusively in their small, simple Parisian apartment, so the set and locations are minimal. Many scenes consist of one long, unbroken take, by a single camera sitting in a single corner of the room, so as far as cinematography and visuals go, Amour is as simple as it gets. Aside from a few scenes where someone plays a piano, there is no music.
This stark simplicity, which sometimes strengthens the film (and sometimes weakens it), makes Amour hard to review, because there simply isn’t that much there to talk about. Both Trintignant and Riva are excellent as the husband and wife (and I’m honestly curious as to why Riva got an Oscar nod and Trintignant didn’t), and the film’s depiction of immediate and unavoidable decline and death is very affecting, but beyond that, there’s not much I can say about it. Whether or not this films reaches you will hinge largely on your own personal experience or concerns or even fears about death.
What I appreciated most about Amour was how readily it embraces aspects of relationships and marriage that most movies would shy away from or avoid. The title is French for “love,” but what sort of love, and which actions on the part of the husband are meant to show his love, are up to individual interpretation. This is no Hollywood romance, that’s for sure. Trying to take care of someone who can no longer take care of themselves is hard, and often frustrating, and Tintignant shows this. He is clearly devoted to his wife, and prefers having her home to going against her wishes and putting her in a 24-hour care center, which would be much easier for him personally. He is patient and gentle with her, but sometimes, as with anyone, his patience runs out. Sometimes he gets angry with her, and even hits her at one point when she refuses to eat. He clearly loves her, but he’s also human. Riva is just as effective in capturing the frustration, pain and humiliation many people feel when they are fully aware of their physical decline, and can only watch as they get worse day by day. And it’s those day-to-day realities of their relationship, the joys and the hardships both, that ultimately make the film work.
On the other hand, this is also where the simplicity of the film hurts it (in my opinion). Their relationship (which, again, is the entirety of the film), is engaging, realistic, and affecting, but we never really know that much about them as people. We know they love classical piano, that the wife once played herself, and also taught a young man who is now a famous pianist. The husband likes to tell stories of his life every so often. They have a daughter living in London. Aside from that, we never learn anything substantial about their lives. What were their hopes, what are their regrets? How did they first meet? Was there ever any conflict or trial of some sort that tested them as a couple? We don’t know. So instead of seeing the death of Anne, mother and inspirational music teacher, we simply see a death of a person, which carries less of an emotional punch.
Of course, that may just be me. This film has affected a lot of people who’ve seen it, and not without good reason. Whether or not you like its minimalist style or its unflinching look at the inevitability of death, it’ll leave you thinking. Amour is already a lock for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, and I wouldn’t rule out it taking either Best Actress or Original Screenplay (although I’d personally rather see those awards go to Zero Dark Thirty). You don’t need to rush to see it in theaters though. It’s a small quiet film, best seen in a small quiet setting, so it actually may be a better idea to wait for it to be released on DVD>