Amour is the first foreign language film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 12 years. This film is also the second film by Austrian director Michael Haneke that won the Palme d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Watching it will surprise you how the saying that ‘less is more’ is true here.
The film actually opens with the ending at the very beginning. After the title’s flashed, the film sets up the events leading to its ending. The first event is a crowd of people at a concert hall gathering to watch a classical piano performance. In the crowd is an elderly couple: Anna and Georges. Both Anna and Georges are retired music teachers and the concert they see is of one of their former students. The next day Georges notices Anne catatonic at breakfast. Georges gets her help and she’s found to have had a stroke. She is to have surgery on a blocked carotid artery but the surgery goes wrong leaving her confined to a wheelchair with a paralyzed right side. Anne makes Georges promise her she’ll never go to a hospital or to a nursing home. She doesn’t even want to talk about it in conversation with one of her students.
Both continue life as well as they can but life becomes more difficult for Anne and she loses the desire to live further. A visit from their former student softens the mood but Anne however wants no reminder of her illness in conversation. Anne however suffers another stroke which causes further deterioration to her body. It’s serious to the point her daughter flies in from her home to see her.
Georges keeps his promise to Anne but with great difficulty and a lot of personal strain. He employs two nurses to look after her on separate days only to have one fired for mistreatment. Anne loses the ability to speak coherently to the point she can only shout “Hurt!” repetitively. Georges has to act as the nurse at certain times. There was even one time Georges has to get Anne to drink her water despite her refusal. It’s when Anne is crying in pain and Georges tries to comfort her with a childhood story that leads to the set up for the ending we saw at the beginning.
The film’s biggest asset has to be the truthfulness of the situation. It captures the silent intensities of the moment and the people struggling with it. It tells the story of Anne and her struggle with her illness as it slowly takes everything from her. She hangs onto the one thing the illness can’t take away: her love for her husband. Also this was more than just about Anne dying but the Georges’ relationship to her. His love is being tested too as her illness dehabilitated her and reduced her to a person he can’t recognize. He tries to be the loving husband. He tries to be the force that keeps her wanting to live. He tries to have her wishes followed. His successes don’t come without its difficulties. That has to be the biggest quality of the film. Not just simply telling the story but focusing on the relationship of the two. The relationship is what the story’s all about.
This is another accomplishment by director/writer Michael Haneke. Haneke is one director who has been able to make a big impact in the new century. He started making a name for himself with The Piano Teacher and has since gotten better with each additional film he sends out from Cache (Hidden) to The White Ribbon which won him his first Palme d’Or from Cannes to Amour. As in his previous works, he is successful at capturing the feel of the moment. He captures the tension of the situation and the emotions and relations of those involved. It’s a no-nonsense story-focused picture that Haneke succeeds in bringing out.
Emmanuelle Riva was excellent in her acting. This was a performance that wasn’t just about emotional acting but physical acting too. Her ability to play a stroke victim well was excellent technically. And all this done at the age of 84 makes it all the more admirable. Despite the great performance of Riva, we should not overlook the performance of Jean-Louis Trintignant. His performance as the husband dealing with it all is also excellent and worthy of respect. He too spoke volumes in his performance and also added to the story. The film also makes a great effort in playing out with no musical score in the background. This is common in Haneke’s films not to have a musical score. Having this film without a score adds to the intensity of the situation and adds to the focus of the relationship of the two.
You remember I talked about film eligibility in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the Academy Awards in my review of Rebelle. This adds more question to the discussion. Amour is a film representing Austria: the country of nationality of director Michael Haneke. Yet it is situated in France and completely consisting of French dialogue. The reason why I’m bring these facts up during these two foreign film nominees is that it does have me wondering what the rules are. I myself take Amour for what it is and am not insisting that Haneke should’ve done it in German. However it does have me wondering about what constitutes a country’s official submission to that category. I was told years ago that an entry of such had to consist of the country’s predominant language or languages. I also was told a multitude of years ago that it had to be set in the country of origin. All I know is the rules don’t make a lot of sense. I’m sure that Amour would have the same Oscar nomination success without being a country’s official submission for the foreign film category. Nevertheless it does get me thinking.
As of now, Amour is the one film with the least release of all the Best Picture nominees. Normally it’s common for films that make for the top contestants for the Best Foreign Language Film to wait until after the Academy Awards for a wider release rather than after the nominations. Amour is doing just that with a very limited release despite its nomination for Best Picture. This weekend saw the film playing at 64 screens across North America: 28 more than the previous weekend. The total gross has just surpassed $1.8 million. Could it be possible it too is waiting until after the Oscars for a wider release?
Amour is possibly the most no-nonsense of all the Best Picture nominees. Michael Haneke knows how to tell a story well and not only does he do it again but he delivers one of the best films of the year. Worth seeing if you have the chance.