Sony Pictures Classics Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Grade: B. Director: Michael Haneke.
Screenwriter: Michael Haneke Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramon Agirre, Rita Blanco Screened at: Critics’ DVD, 11/30/12 Opens: December 19, 2012
“Would you like to live to 100?” asks 70-year-old Dan to his septuagenarian friend Paul. “Don’t ask me,” replies Paul. “Ask the guy who’s 99.” “Amour” poses the question at an earlier age, drawing up the experiences of a couple in their eighties, one of whom has expressed a desire to put an end to her suffering.
In our youth-crazed culture, one in which young people generally have contempt for those over forty, “Amour” would only provide them ammunition to justify their arrogance. This year’s biggest downer—which is not to take away from the qualities of the film—“Amour” represents a change for director Michael Haneke, whose “Funny Games” is a remarkable thriller about the takeover of a household by two psychopathic youths and whose “The White Ribbon” looks at mysterious goings-on in a feudal village in Germany prior to World War I. This time the seventy-year-old Austrian director defines love not in the way that obsessed young people view the attraction but in the manner in which older people, bereft for the most part of testosterone, consider those who are emotionally closest to them.
In parts almost a tract for medical students, “Amour” is a chamber piece, one which takes place almost completely in the home of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintagnant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). Their relationship takes an unfortunate break when Anne suffers a block in a carotid artery, a stroke which at first finds her simply zoning out of her breakfast conversation with George, yet not remembering those moments in which she was zonked. She will ultimately get worse, much worse, when some time after returning from the hospital and forcing Georges to promise never to send her back, she suffers a second stroke which paralyzes her not only on the right side but almost completely. Refusing to send her to a home (apparently the French have the same bad view of “convalescent” or “assistant living” facilities as we do in the States), he is resolved to take care of her completely, later taking on the help of nurses who bathe and diaper Anne. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) shows up, angry that French medicine cannot offer a cure, but Eva, wrapped up in her own musical career, is in no condition to help her dad with the unpleasant job of nursing poor Anne.
When Anne needs to go to the toilet, she must be carried, front to front, by Georges, their trip to the john looking more like a macabre dance than a medical intervention. Anne has become almost as crippled as Mathieu Amalric’s character Jean-Do in Julian Schnabel’s 2007 movie “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” What Haneke is looking for, though, is not so much Anne’s difficulties in adjusting to a tragic situation brought on by cruel nature but by the emotions driving her husband who, having rejected a nursing home or a hospital for her, has the depth of his amour sorely tested.
In a sense Haneke is not splitting from his concern for families tested by the psychotic drives of “Funny Games’” white-gloved characters who test the endurance of a couple under tension. In “The Seventh Continent,” an NC-17 pic released in 1989, a couple descends into barbarism, destroying what they have built up since their marriage. “Amour” can be heavy going, given Haneke’s eschewing of a soundtrack other than the piano music that has defined the family’s existence, and the long takes, particularly in an opening scene where a concert audience chats while preparing for an evening’s entertainment. But patience is rewarded by those who do not require rapid editing and who receive yet more evidence that nature takes revenge on those who challenge the Biblical three-score-and-ten limits of life.
Rated: PG-13. 127 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+