Find us

Amour, Movie Review

Written by Alexander Tucker   // 12/21/2012

amour14a“Is it the culmination of Mr. Haneke’s entire career? Yes, and no. He certainly didn’t win his second Palme D’Or in three years for nothing. Despite literally all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Haneke always insists that he is an optimist at heart and the smug superiority his films usually convey is meant to be a front for rejecting popular cinematic trends toward de-mystifying and degrading the human condition, including (but not being inclusive to) death. The opening scene alone is worth the price of admission as it shows us death at its most mysterious and mythic. It only gets better as it becomes more contextualized.”

sony

Amour, Movie Review

 

Sometimes the words to describe a monolithic masterpiece are never enough. Some films are so powerful that their greatness is monolithic to the point of suffocation. If there’s one thing Michael Haneke’s new award- magnet, Amour, does best, is that it knows when to quit. Those expecting a straight-up horror film from him are bound to be disappointed. Not to leave his long-suffering fans in the collective dust, Mr. Haneke has plenty of mysterious surprises up his sleeve. Despite reports that the film shows Mr. Haneke turning over a new leaf into something resembling compassion toward its subjects, it really isn’t anything new for his audience. Thankfully, he tones down the adolescence a tad this time.

amour12

 

Like many of Mr. Haneke’s previous stories, Amour is deceptively simple and bleakly to-the-point. It is the story of vintage Haneke octogenarian constructions (notice I don’t call them characters), Georges and Anne, as their ennui is ravaged in their isolated upscale apartment by an uninvited intruder known as Time. They are played marvelously by the legendary French New Wave actors/icons Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. This long-living/suffering prominent musician couple is only interrupted occasionally by their daughter, Eva (Haneke regular Isabelle Huppert), abusive nurses’ attending to Anne’s deteriorating condition, and a former student too overwhelmed to be anything but condescending. Entering their mundane but ghostly world is almost like entering a death camp. This is the future that awaits us all, if we live to see it.  Is it the culmination of Mr. Haneke’s entire career? Yes, and no. He certainly didn’t win his second Palme D’Or in three years for nothing. Despite literally all evidence to the contrary, Mr. Haneke always insists that he is an optimist at heart and the smug superiority his films usually convey is meant to be a front for rejecting popular cinematic trends toward de-mystifying and degrading the human condition, including (but not being inclusive to) death. The opening scene alone is worth the price of admission as it shows us death at its most mysterious and mythic. It only gets better as it becomes more contextualized.

amour4

 

One cannot really discuss Amour without mentioning Mr. Haneke’s previous features. I have never seen any of his television work so I can only talk about the films. He is quite literally, the only living director in the world today who could be simultaneously compared to both Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman at the same time…without any sense of irony. His resume since 1989 has read like a great hits album of European cinema. His output is – almost literally – all killer, no filler. The closest film I could compare Amour to is his debut, The Seventh Continent. This one dealt with the still- perplexing true story of a family in the 1980s who unceremoniously decided to commit suicide in their house. Mr. Haneke uses this as an excuse to condemn the modern increasingly technologically-aggressive modern society. One can only imagine how he reacts to it now. There is no such heavy-handedness in Amour, but it feels very much in the same spirit in how it deals with killing with kindness straight-forwardly.  Also, the death in Amour does not occur to Celine Dion music like it did there, which Mr. Haneke was saying, is like experiencing death itself apparently. He also recently said he doesn’t like Schindler’s List. Probably not enough Celine in the camps for him.

amour6

 

Mr. Haneke’s other works foreshadow and deepen the impact of Amour. The dated and enigmatic Benny’s Video  and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance now feel like a warm up act for his seemingly ultimate act of finger-wagging: 1997 and 2007’s Funny Games. These were films so arrogant and pretentiously self-important that he had to direct the English-language remake himself. In Amour, the interminable takes reflect the characters’ worlds, not the audience’s attitudes. His adaptation of The Castle is still the most faithful to Franz Kafka’s tone and silenced vision. I feel Mr. Kafka would have directed Amour himself if he could’ve. Mr. Haneke’s first Cannes Film Festival winner, 2002’s Code Unknown, along with 2005’s Hidden (Cache) showed French racism at its most ambiguous and gave Juliette Binoche two of her most underrated roles to date. The latter is also the finest Lost Highway homage ever conceived.  2001’s Cannes winner The Piano Teacher is probably the closest to a mainstream crowd-pleaser he’ll ever make, but it’s more likely to send the average moviegoer screaming out of the theater.  I still marvel at the almost sentimental turn he gave the all-but-forgotten Sitges Film Festival winner, 2003’s Time of the Wolf. If there’s a film you need to play at your 12/21/2012 “end of the world” party you’ve never heard of, it’s this one. And, of course, Amour, isn’t a historical epic like the 1st time he won the Plame D’Or, 2009’s Oscar- nominated The White Ribbon, a film so overly- concerned with its iconoclastic imagery, it was able to compete with the likes of Avatar for the cinematography Oscar whilst indulging in the supposed upbringing of future fascists. Perhaps they grew up to be like Georges and Anne.

 

To say that Mr. Haneke is uncompromising is perhaps an understatement, but I imagine he wouldn’t have it any other way. I also must mention that almost every film on that list contains two characters named….George and Anne, but I digress.

amour10

 

The appropriately icy style of the film elucidates its own detached sense of irony. Georges is seen being cantankerous to his put-upon daughter for simply checking-in on them, chastising a nurse for being inept, and capturing a metaphorical pigeon before setting it free off-camera (or, did he). Georges clearly wants what is best for his stroke-inflicted wife…which is an end to her suffering. Of course, no one can do the job quite like he can, he feels. His belligerence is matched only by his possible encroaching insanity. You see, Mr. Haneke isn’t going into the mellow waters of sentimentality that quietly. He indulges in Georges’ dreams/nightmares by giving them a haunting Luis Bunuel-style flavor even in the most limited of locations. These scenes represent the most imaginative direction he has ever given. I can only hope he has more of this variety in store for his next film.

 

So, what can be said about Amour that hasn’t already been said? It is bold. It is uncompromising. The actors’ naturalistic performances save Haneke from himself. It wears its heart tucked away in a box at the bottom of the ocean. It isn’t exactly an argument for health care reform. Strangely enough, it made my spirit soar knowing that such austere ambiguity is still very much a living thing both in the cinema and in Mr. Haneke’s world. Will it win the Foreign Language Film Oscar? Probably, as it deserves to. Will the actors be nominated? No, but they deserve to be. Will it break the xenophobic mold and get a Best Picture nomination? Anything’s possible, but don’t count on it. And it doesn’t matter who wins Best Director this year as they have stolen the deserving honor from him. Mr. Haneke may repeat himself way too much, but his perfect-pitch direction knows where it needs to go in the name of love, even if it means snuffing out the audience’s sympathies in its path.

 

 

amour13

 

 

 

 


[fbcomments]

Similar posts