Friday, February 08, 2013

Michael Haneke’s AMOUR Earns Its Accolades

This Oscar nominated French film opens today in Raleigh at the Colony Theater and the Grande 16:

AMOUR (Dir. Michael Haneke, 2012)

The set-up is so simple and the story so spare, that initially many movie-goers may wonder why this was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Foreign Picture Academy Awards for 2012.

But as they come to know Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, as a long-time married couple in their 80s, and how their retirement has gotten less comfortable after Riva suffers a debilitating stroke, very few will question why this film is getting such accolades.

Trintignant and Riva, former music teachers, live in a fairly spacious apartment in Paris, which you’ll get to know almost every inch of as the movie almost completely takes place there (we first meet the French couple in a great long shot of the audience at a concert of one of Riva’s former pupils, but after that…).

Early in the film, Riva, also worthy of her nomination for a Best Actress Oscar, stops speaking mid-sentence and goes while sitting at breakfast. Trintignant panics after failing to get her attention, and as he is about call for help, she snaps out of it. This is her first stroke, and shortly after, Trintignant takes her in for surgery, but complications make her condition worse.

Riva, now paralyzed on one side and confined to a wheelchair, makes Trintignant promise he won’t put her in the hospital again. The worried Trintignant does what he can to tend to his ailing wife, but he knows that she’s in heavy decline and that her days are numbered. Nurses (Carole Franck and Dinara Droukarova) help out, and their daughter (Isabelle Huppert) also checks in.

AMOUR is a very quiet film - there’s no score; the only music present is when Trintignant puts on CDs of Schubert and Beethoven, and a visiting star student (Alexandre Tharaud) plays a piece on piano for the couple.

Tharaud sends Trintignant and Riva a note after his visit, in which he writes that seeing them was “beautiful, but sad.”

That sums up the movie succinctly, but the emotional power present is much more overwhelming than that simple sentiment suggests. Previously, director/writer Michael Haneke’s filmography (FUNNY GAMES, CACHE, THE WHITE RIBBON) has left me a bit cold, but the warm feeling that he has for these two lovely characters is felt in every frame, and the delicate room-length distance he gives his subjects pays proper respect.

The French film icon Trintignant (AND GOD CREATED WOMAN, Z, THE CONFORMIST), who wasn’t nominated for an Oscar but picked up a European Film Award for Best Actor, puts in an affectingly relatable performance as the stressed out yet still endlessly devoted husband.

Riva, best known for her starring role in Alain Resnais’ HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959), is incredibly and disturbingly convincing in her fearless performance of a woman losing her fight with life. It’s nearly impossible not to tear up at times when witnessing her helpless pain.

It would indeed be satisfying to see Riva, the oldest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award, take home the gold on February 24th.

More later...

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