The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Review: Amour (UK Cert 12A)

Winning the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and garnering widespread critical acclaim, Amour is the first film since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar as well as a Best Foreign Language Oscar. The film's nomination in the top category- and Haneke's nod for Best Director- came as a surprise to some, making this in some ways Haneke's most mainstream movie to date.

Let's clear this up before we begin. Michael Haneke does not make happy films. If you want a night of cozy escapism at the cinema, go elsewhere. You'll find little comfort here. Haneke's films (Funny Games and the US remake, Hidden, The White Ribbon) are often dispassionate and unflinching in their portrayal of the darker side of life and the crueler impulses of humanity. Despite appearances to the contrary, Amour is no different.

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are retired music teachers, both in their eighties. When Anne has a stroke and is paralysed down her right-hand side, Georges decides to care for her himself at home as he doesn't want her to go into a nursing home. What follows is an uncompromising and occasionally harrowing look at a situation few would want to find themselves in.

Haneke's films often show a family's life being disrupted by an outside force- here, it's not two psychopathic young men or sinister videotapes, but the effects of ageing and ill-health. Anne's physical deterioration is intensely portrayed (a sterling job by the make-up artists) and it is a real tour de force performance by Emmanuelle Riva. Early on, just after she returns from hospital, she makes an impassioned plea to Georges, stating that things will just get worse and she doesn't want to put them through it. In that one moment, I could hear tears falling. Going from an erudite cultured woman to little more than a helpless child is a tremendous feat and Riva is well deserving of all the plaudits that she's receiving.

That said, Jean-Louis Trintignant matches her with a performance of intensity and occasional tenderness. A stubborn man determined to do what he thinks is right, it seems remiss that his performance is not being recognised. He has several scenes with Isabelle Huppert who plays their daughter Eva and his mulish determination in the face of Anne's increasing invalidity is breathtaking. Interestingly, Haneke wrote the script specifically for Trintignant. Isabelle Huppert (who has previously worked with Haneke on The Piano Teacher) gives a strong performance; Eva can see that Georges has taken on more than he can handle but is unable to make him change his mind.

Haneke uses an almost Dogme-style of direction here-  long takes, no external soundtrack (save a few classical pieces played on piano or CD)- but crucially he doesn't try to manipulate the audience's feelings towards the characters or Anne's plight. There is a coolness there, a detachment. Haneke's almost standoffish: as if he is saying 'here are the people; make your own judgements, I am not going to guide you'. And I'm sure that for every person who sees Georges' actions in the final part of the film as a deep expression of his love for Anne, there will be someone else who will see it as an act of craven cowardice and selfishness. 

All said, I found it powerful and absorbing and extremely well acted. I walked out of the cinema feeling emotionally drained and wondering what I would do in the same position. Thought-provoking stuff, but not exactly enjoyable.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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