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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What introduction could this film possibly require? Any film enthusiast
recognises the name of Haneke instantly, whatever their opinion of him.
His latest film, Amour, finally arrives in the UK this week, having won
the Palme D'Or at Cannes (Haneke's second in a row) and the appraisal
of most of the cinematic world. Horrible feelings accompanied me into
the Friday screening of Amour would the film live up to the hype,
could Haneke really better his recent works, Hidden and The White
I realized about a quarter of the way into Amour that this was the wrong way to think about it. Haneke is renowned for his chilly, detached style and merciless lack of sentimentality in exploring the darker sides of human nature. Although his ruthless devotion to all things challenging and unsentimental is still evident in Amour, we must at least recognise that this represents some kind of turning point in Haneke's oeuvre.
Georges and Anne have been married many years, and have grown old together. They are both piano teachers, now retired. When we first meet them, they are attending a concert of one of Anne's old students, now grown and making a name for himself. They applaud, congratulate him and then take the bus home, smiling and talking to one another in snippets as they come closer to their apartment. If it hadn't been for a masterful, disquieting opening sequence (which I will not describe here), we would not suspect anything was wrong.
Yet after this wonderful outing, which they have obviously been looking forward to for a long time, their spacious Parisian apartment will become their entire world; we shall never leave it. There is a brief moment, masterfully shot, where the couple's adult daughter (in a beautiful performance from Isabelle Huppert, who played the self-harming protagonist in Haneke's formidable film, 'The Piano Teacher') stands by the window, and through the translucent material of the curtain we see the street outside and the vehicles moving slowly along it; the outside world remains completely impervious to the painful ordeal which is taking place on the other side of that curtain.
The ordeal begins one morning over the couple's breakfast. The two are having a conversation. Georges tells Anne something, and she suddenly becomes unresponsive. She snaps out of it, and she insists she has no memory of it; yet we sense in Anne, as Georges tells her about this strange event, a fear of something starting within her, of doctors and hospitals; there is even, glimpsed on her face for the briefest of moments, suspicion directed at her husband. It is the first event in a downward spiral, and from the moment Anne returns from the hospital afterwards, and a farce of a funeral that George is forced to attend alone, both will be condemned to this apartment. Anne begs Georges never to take her back to the hospital; thus, it becomes a prison and mausoleum; the sense of oncoming death pervades the coldly lit rooms.
Georges and Anne are played magnificently by those acting gods of yesteryear, Jean-Louis Trintignant (star of Bertolucci's masterpiece, The Conformist) and Emmanuelle Riva (the female protagonist of Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour). Hand-picked by Haneke himself, these two bring a lifetime of experience to their roles; their performances are breathtaking. Riva in particular, whose character loses her independence and her own sense of dignity increasingly throughout the film, is magnificent, not afraid of baring all to the camera. Anne's condition is not the ersatz tragedy, infused with humour and considerable taste, that Hollywood would have us believe; it is ugly, painful, degrading.
The claustrophobia of their lives, increasingly shut off from the rest of the world, is intense. Characters (including the couple's own daughter, selfish on the surface but nursing deep hurts) will come in and penetrate temporarily the organic, defensive webbing that Georges and Anne are now forming for themselves, but both the guest and the host feel that the couple's lives are being intruded upon. Theirs is a holistic, private world that outsiders try to break into; there is a great piece of symbolism, early on in the film, after Georges and Anne return from the concert, where they discover that someone has tried to break into their apartment. This couple, in the face of oncoming tragedy, hide within themselves and within this space, their own, where they have spent so many years and built their lives together.
I believe this to be the best film Haneke has ever made. Yes, it is gruellingly unsentimental, but unlike all of his other films, there is warmth, tenderness and genuine humanity to be found here. We are greeted by two highly intelligent people, who have been and remain deeply in love, and we are challenged now not to watch the beginning of this relationship, but its end. Georges and Anne are not perfect human beings; they become frustrated, even angry. The wounds that each can inflict on the other, knowing each other inside out, hit the audience like a punch to the gut. It is part of the searing authenticity of the film, and that makes the more tender moments even more special.
Amour is a film about the disappearance of a human being; of what one man does in the face of losing the woman he has loved his whole life, every day, little by little. It is a psychological drama, tinged with philosophy and moments of exquisite, heartbreaking poetry. But it is also a luminous love story one that is genuine and recognisable, between two characters that we fully believe in and sympathise with. Georges and Anne have spent many long, happy years together, and now, slowly and sadly, their happiness is coming to an end
In 'Amour', we delve into the deepest, and most profound type of love
seldom explored on screen, examined to it's uncompromising end. It is
one of the most moving displays of love, in recent memory. That the
couple at the heart of this film are 80-plus year old, bourgeois,
retired French-speaking music teachers is surprising. That their story
speaks to so many audiences worldwide regardless of their age and
culture should not be, it simply reflects the universal emotions at the
core of this film told with great honesty and sensitivity.
Ironically, as the title suggests, this is (not) another love story. In his most classical and refined film yet, Austrian master Haneke has once again asks questions of the audience in his own subversive, clinical, uncomfortable methods, yet (in what many see as a departure) with profoundly moving results. Some of the signature Haneke 'shocks' still remain, but this time they also carry devastating emotional weight.
Paradoxically the emotional force of the film comes from Haneke's characteristic clinical style of filmmaking: static shots, framed in mid to long distance, no score, economical and direct screenplay, however assisted by an always crisp sound design, sharp lighting and cinematography courtesy of Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris), and naturalistic and honest performances. This time however, the approach feels gentler and respectful without the standard disdain and nihilism one expects from Haneke.
Yet there remains a palpable sense of the unknown and danger as film progresses (ironically almost exclusively in their spacious and comfortable apartment) ratcheting up a claustrophobic sense of fear. The film also spends it's time almost solely on the two leads, the emotional weight they carry and the connection to the audience evidenced by genuine laughter, gasps and tears (laughter or sorrow I won't disclose) was incredibly moving for two (real-life) octogenarians that few would admit, they have more in common than they would believe.
I've not said much about the film's story - an elderly French couple live in a Parisian apartment until an unexpected event causes them to reevaluate their life - it is simple in it's construction and execution, and the emotional peaks are best experienced by yourself with a friend or family member and a receptive audience. I watched this at the Sydney Film Festival in June, about a month after it's premiere in Cannes in May for which it deservedly won with enthusiastic reception. The theatre was comparatively (and undeservedly) under attended, yet the reception was attentively silent, collectively moved.
Following the visceral and subversive Caché and the more refined and sprawling White Ribbon, it appeared that Haneke had reached a creative zenith. Almost inevitably however, and especially given with the subject matter, he has restrained his somewhat acerbic style and delivered a film that is superlatively honest and sincere in all it's creative aspects. He has given an honest appraisal of a tender human relationship that should move even the most dispassionate viewer by the often unflinching humanity displayed on screen. One of the greatest and profound achievements seen on screen in many years, this is film at it's purest and most powerful form.
Amour (2012) Dir. Michael Haneke
Just when I thought Michael Haneke could surprise me no more, he comes along with a film like this. A film for which the jury at Cannes gave him his 2nd Palme d'Or in four years. And nothing less than this film deserves.
The story of an elderly French couple, their deteriorating health and devotion to each other is the basis, and allows the Austrian auteur to inject something rarely if ever seen in any of his films to date, heart.
Some of the typical Haneke touches are still there; the suffocating sense that something terrible is going to happen being his signature. His previous film, the 2008 Palme d'Or winning The White Ribbon keeps up this omnipresent dread for almost its entire runtime (also see the deus ex machina in Funny Games, and continuous sense of dread in Hidden). With these films Haneke has proved himself to be the biggest audience manipulator since the greatest of them all, Alfred Hitchcock.
But there's nothing artificially manipulative in Amour. And there's none of the sentimentality less able directors would fall back on given the film's subject matter. The acting and characterisation so good that sentiment is never needed, and is in fact the very last thing you'd come across in a Haneke picture.
The emotion felt towards the two protagonists as they struggle with coming to the end of their lives actually gave me a crushing sensation in my chest by the end of the runtime. This is an extremely tough film to watch at times, and on more than one occasion I had to look away from the screen.
The biggest compliment I can give this film, is that it make me want to call my parents.
5/5 stars. #1 film of the year so far.
The fact that Amour is an instant classic in the art-house world is as
indisputable as the emotions presented by the protagonists of the film
are bewildering. This picture is Haneke's minimalistic yet mightily
expressive homage to love as we know it, showing the feeling's
overpowering force and heartfelt, altruistic nature. While remaining a
thoroughly unsentimental and provocative picture, Amour delivers a
most-demanding portrayal of an elderly couple's last days together.
Those cultivated, sophisticated characters need to evaluate their
long-lasting marriage and come to terms with their own emotions, and,
simultaneously, discover the true meaning of love in itself. Decisions
need to be made, and some of them might be shocking to say the least.
It's a beautiful but considerable piece of filmmaking, where a sombre atmosphere and touching yet disturbing imagery permeate every scene. Haneke's steady and visionary directorial hand promises many moving and heartbreaking sequences, while still providing a poetic exemplification of a well- lived life's concluding moments. It's impossible to find neither a plausible sense of redemption nor an authentic touch of consolation, no. The film displays a marvelous character-driven narrative, where loving individuals diverge from the seemingly familiar path and start arguing with their own opinions and ideals, leading to some truly perplexing choices. In the most unexpected manner Amour touches the controversial topic of euthanasia, emphatically depicting how difficult it might seem to even consider such a harsh decision.
Amour is a tender, scrupulous, demanding, two-hour visualization of a romance well beyond boundaries, and through its difficult notions it shows human existence in its most intimate and most elegiac state. That death seems inevitable from the very first minutes is certain, but the way Haneke chooses in order to finally arrive at this intensely upsetting conclusion is an uneasy one. Amour is definitely a cinematic powerhouse, which will leave the audiences in a most pensive, quiet - even downcast - mood, still astounding with its ubiquitous beauty.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The fact that Amour is an instant classic in the art-house world is
perhaps one of the most bewildering phenomena to present itself to me
lately. It's difficult for me to even begin to criticize it.
Firstly, some will say that this film is a "mightily expressive homage to love", which shows "the feeling's overpowering force and heartfelt nature". This boggles me. It's simply baffling that this is an opinion people come away with after having viewed Amour. The focus of the movie is to present a couple's relationship in its twilight years, however it does nothing to round out this relationship. The viewers of this movie witness a mechanical, formal, and unnaturally polite relationship between two old people. We are never presented with images of their past nor any obvious sense of devotion they feel towards each other. In fact, we never understand very much about them beyond the fact that the wife is dying and the husband is burdened with taking care of her. The plot starts off shallow and deepens only marginally.
The fact that the couple's relationship is not well presented undermines every other aspect of the movie. I found it impossible to feel any deep connection or pity for these people who were strangers to each other as well as myself. The only emotion present for the duration of the movie is concern. This becomes unbearable to watch after the first half-hour.
Some will say that the director has a "visionary directorial hand". This was not apparent to me. This movie has no vision and presents nothing that cannot be found outside of a rest-home. Is it "visionary" to show an old woman urinating in her bed? Or slowly becoming senile? Or receiving assistance to go to the washroom? It takes no insight or "vision" to show these things and I cannot imagine why such displays enthral viewers. A truly good film-maker would have insinuated the trials of old age, and the oncoming of death, without needing to display them explicitly. A good film-maker would create emotions that hit home without the tactics that Haneke employed.
The old man eventually makes a point that these characteristics of old age are the things no one wishes to see. Why would the director ignore advice given in his own movie's script? Did he think he could create something "profound" and "artistic" by simply going against the norms? Did he think he could create a masterpiece by presenting unconventional, uncomfortable scenes which do nothing but cause the audience to feel queasy, or inclined to look away? Such empty shock-value will never be a benefit to a movie. It is not a tool which a good director implements. Do the people who endorse this movie also stand behind movies containing graphic violence? Or extreme sexual scenes? Do other critically-acclaimed movies rely so heavily on shock to produce emotion?
The plot of Amour is simple and could be fully explained within a paragraph of writing. The director inflates this plot to the point that it runs for over 2 hours. This is accomplished by inserting countless long- lasting shots of dull scenes. I watched a man cut the head off of every flower in a bouquet for 3 minutes when I had gotten the gist of it after 2 seconds. I gazed at an open window for 2. I watched a woman turning her head to resist being given drinking-water for 3. Again I ask, is such a reliance on filler-content the sign of a good film-maker?
Overall it strikes me as profoundly odd that a director can create a movie lacking any and all instances of character-development, drama or intrigue; a well-developed thesis; and only containing bountiful amounts of shocking imagery (scenes that any person avoids witnessing in their day-to-day life) and drawn-out, still camera shots, and become critically acclaimed. It is simply baffling. Haneke is really on to something.
This movie is meant for the type who likes to go to a theatre, watch a piece that is intensely "artsy", and then give a standing-ovation afterwards without thinking beyond the "artsiness" of the movie, and without considering the fact that it may be deeply flawed in any (or perhaps even every) aspect of film-making.
If I had watched this film no less than 5 years ago, I'd probably
wouldn't think too much about Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winning
Amour, which made him one of an elite group of filmmakers who had won
the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival at least twice (and within a
span of three years too). But I suppose having to live through some of
life's experiences, both pleasant and those that are not, would have
opened up one's horizons, connect and identify with the many elements
about terminal illness and suffering, love and the quality of life,
being affected in more ways that I would have normally allowed.
As in most of the Austrian filmmaker's movies, this film centers around the characters of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly couple whom we see are enjoying the twilight of their lives, and their companionship with each other, since daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is away overseas most of the time. Unfortunately Anne suffers a stroke and more, rendering her paralyzed on one side, gradually relying on the primary care provided by Georges to get through day by day. And given Georges' age, being primary caregiver is also something of a challenge, and a stress both mentally and physically, having made a vow to Anne that he is adamant in keeping, of having no further hospital visits, or to put her in a home.
The many things that Haneke had put into his film are the hard truths revolving around the dedicated attention given to the patient, from things like feeding and the changing of diapers, doing the household chores which include enlisting the help of others in grocery shopping, to hardware requirements like the commode or the adjustable bed. There may be a certain level of shyness involved during cleaning up, and in every step of the way you want to maintain the dignity of the patient, because the last thing you want to do is to have a drop of morale. The deterioration is painful to witness, as Eva goes from having strength to being completely bedridden, with the ability of communication, a very key thing, taken away when speech impairment rears its ugly head, when therapy can only do so much. Haneke doesn't gloss over the necessary aspects of suffering, even if under the hands of uncaring home nurses, and probably introduced a little tinge of fear as one grows old, gets sick, and get put under the mercy of others.
Georges gets the periodic visits from his daughter, but you can almost feel a distant rift between the two each time they try to sit down and communicate. What Haneke's story and screenplay brilliantly achieved is to be able to say so much without saying much at all, directing the actors to bring out ideas and back-channel communication through their acting craft, making it a very fulfilling experience watching, and dissecting the human relations and condition in each of the characters, even when Eva had to spend most of her time in bed, and portraying the limited range of emotions a stroke patient can muscle together. Perhaps I too felt some guilt each time Eva returns home to check on the latest status of her mom and dad, as it mirrors how I would have loved to be able to do more, if not for modern day commitments, or what we would like to think of as commitments.
Being a Haneke film, we'd come to know some darker moments to sort of jump through when we least expected, especially so when the title is one as benign as Love in its many forms. While what was shocking wasn't something narratively new in films done by others, it still made one heck of an impact, lingering for some time which I thought was quite wicked, leaving things rich and open to post-screening debate. Haneke makes you work to come up with your interpretation of events, never telling you verbose details unnecessary to spoonfeed, preferring that you experience and take away something from it, though this was perhaps one of his less obtuse works.
What made this film was also the performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who hardly put in a wrong foot. Trintignant returns to the big screen after an absence of 7 years, with a role specifically written for him, which he duly delivered. His Georges came across as heartbroken and exasperated rolled into one. Emmanuelle Riva may seem to have gotten the easier role having to be in bed, and sometimes absent for the most parts as Georges keeps her Anne locked away, but credit to her fine acting without having the need to over-act or over-compensate for the condition she has to flesh out. The make up department also deserves mention for being able to realistically age her on screen as well.
Amour continues in its winning of the minds of various critics and chalking up awards in the festival circuit, as well as year end accolades. It should be interesting if it does culminate in walking away with the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar statuette next year. Recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I guess I'll never understand the infatuation of the art-house crowd
(and the Cannes festival in particular) with Michael Haneke, a director
who did bold and ground-breaking work in the 90s but has since slipped
into eclectic mannerisms that this reviewer has found increasingly
unbearable. It's not just that nothing happens in Haneke's films, it's
that he has been passing off artificial renditions of admittedly
stylistic mastership as presentations of actual social dilemmas. If you
realize, however, that there's always one particular scene in a Haneke
film that the whole story has been carefully engineered to carry, then
you will find yourself rather unimpressed by the stories they tell;
you'll just wait two hours for it to finally happen, and feel
tremendously bored in the process.
In 'Love', the subject dealt with is caring for a loved one impaired by a stroke, and it's one that I'm personally familiar with, having taken care of my paralyzed father during his last years. That's what prompted me to view it in spite of considering 'The White Ribbon', notwithstanding its laurels, one of the dullest films I've ever seen. While this doesn't make me an expert on health care, I found the ultimate 'solution' in the film offensive, even though I more than less expected such a conclusion; it's offensive because this is what intellectual people with enough money to take psychoanalytical tours of their oh-so-interesting subconscious consider the logical outcome of immense stress. And yet millions of people worldwide feed their ailing relatives with spoons or change their diapers without thinking of - I might as well relieve you of the suspense - suffocating them. Situations like these tend to take you along with them, rather than giving you Othelloesque airs.
To be sure, until that point in the film there were a lot of situations I found myself familiar with: explaining what you do to relatives who think you should do a better job while staying away from the work, trying to make sense out of doctor's comments, telling off private nurses rushing through their routine, and most of all, watching a person you were close to all your life fade away. Yes, there are moments when you crack. But not only is the breakdown - in an otherwise wonderful performance by the great Jean-Louis Trintignant - a rather obvious 'hommage' to the climax of Jean-Jacques Beineix's 'Betty Blue' (in which it's much more appropriate and hard-hitting), it's also a completely unnecessary sensationalist twist to an otherwise straight-laced, no-nonsense account of what happens to an elderly couple.
Had it not been for this, I would have left the film thinking: 'Good, Haneke is back to his original strong story-telling, even though it's 30 minutes too long'. But as it is, 'Love' is one of his calculated, constructed bore-offs catering to an elitist audience who probably put their parents in homes, and transform their guilt over such neglect into admiration for a film dealing with the subject. 'Stopped on Track', which won the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2011, is a much more honest, less calculated look at a family dealing with the prospect of death. It also has what 'Love' most distinctly lacks - heart. For that is what makes me bash Haneke's films so often: they may have brains, but no heart to go along with.
I thought I was going to be deeply affected by "Amour," based on my
experience with Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" and the film's
premise. My wife and I just recently watched her father degenerate
physically and mentally over the last few years until his recent death,
so the closeness to me of the subject matter combined with Haneke's
uncompromising approach to filmmaking made me feel sure that I would be
deeply disturbed by his film.
And while I was watching it, I felt like I should be feeling that way, but never really did. It's by any definition a formidable piece of filmmaking, but it left me cold. The events depicted in the film count among my worst nightmares and are even more terrifying for the significant likelihood that I will have to experience them in some fashion. But I never forgot that I was watching actors performing in a movie. There's something about Haneke's style that's cold and clinical, and the same quality that can make his movies deeply disturbing can also make them inaccessible.
To be honest, I'm kind of glad Haneke's style kept me at an emotional distance from the film, because I think it might otherwise have been unendurable.
According to Robert Sternberg's triangular theory, the paragon of love
is "consummate"complete, ideal, perfect. In this fashion of love, a
couple delights in each other while defeating hardships with grace.
Some might argue that aseptic concepts don't translate in the ebb and
flow of reality; they would be right. Except Sternberg never said
consummate was truly sustainable or permanent.
Amour surpasses consummate and escalates the inquiry; venturing into end-stage by showing us the bits that come before "death do us part".
When the movie begins, firemen break into a foul smelling apartment. A bedroom door, shut and sealed with layers of tape open to reveal the lifeless body of an old woman laid at rest. She was dressed in the finest, adorned with flowers. We are then introduced to main protagonists; ex-piano teachers Georges and Anne. Retired octogenarians with a long history of marriage who have settled comfortably into middle-class existence. The couple is shown attending a concert performed by one of their ex-students, and having a pleasant evening togetherthat was the last scene filmed outside their apartment.
On returning home, Georges discovers a tampered door lock. What appears to be a burglary attempt by strangers in the present, alludes to the change about to intrude at dawn.
At first consideration, Michael Haneke is an unlikely choice for stock sentimental genres. His blank, minimalistic, expressionless style of film-making; famous for detachment and cold neutrality would only aggravate the treatment of dry complex material. When one walks into a Haneken feature, expect neither theatrics nor emotions. Still shots, basic camera movements overlayed with monotonous ambient sounds only. But realistic mise en scène accentuates the intense deliberation demanded by his films (Caché, The White Ribbon). This is the principle behind those introspective pieces.
We are living in times of antipodal controversies. Pro-life campaigns against palliative medicine in the Liverpool Care Pathway saga is just one among the many that surround euthanasia debates. Rather than hanker over mission statements, Amour grazes the back door stance without overtly fixating on any specific message. And it would be perceptive to withhold from believing the central theme concerns itself with human rights because it doesn't.
This is a story about a common man and woman, what their romance is capable of enduring, and their burning departure from blessed peace. Amour makes observations behind mysterious doors; allowing you to watch as two human beings gradually abate into claustrophobic indignity. Tender, humane, poetic and heart rending.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You've heard the hype about Amour right now. Not only one of the most
critically acclaimed films of the year, but a foreign film that gets a
Best Picture and Best Director film has to be great, right? Not so
fast. This film to me is a colossal failure and misstep. Let's start
with the most obvious reason. The film is called Amour, translated to
Love in English. As a film about a man holding onto his mentally and
physically fading wife, one should expect a lot of love shared from
him. But the opposite is true. Amour is a totally emotionally detached
and COLD film. In fact part of me wonders if Haneke intended for his
title to be ironic, by making his characters NOT have much love between
them, as emotionally disconnected souls. Certainly their weak
relationship with their daughter would fit into this theme. Regardless
though, the two principle characters being cold and clinical made this
a very unenjoyable watch to me. I did not like these people very much
and I did not feel a strong relationship between them. Obviously in a
film with this plot, a strong emotional relationship between its
characters would seem critical and this film misses in that area.
But as a whole, my main problem with Amour is how clinical it feels. I always felt the presence of Michael Haneke in this film and I don't mean that in a good way. I always felt like I was watching the film being directed and filmed. The dialog felt rather forced and unorganic to me as well, a major problem in a film that aspires to realism. To give an example of a microcosm of the film's problems, a few times in the film the Jean-Louis Trintignant character George has a pigeon fly into the apartment. The first time he chases it away, but when it comes back after his wife had died, he catches in a blanket and embraces it. Get it - the pigeon represents George embracing his wife's and his future death, first he doesn't want to accept it, then he embraces it! If this sounds forced and eye roll worthy to you, it's because it is. Now the pigeon scene doesn't hurt the film that much, in fact it's kind of fun to see JLT chasing it around, but the entire film is made with the mindset of that film. Haneke calculating his cinematography and dialog to try and force his 'relationship' between the leads on you and his messages about embracing death. Despite great performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, it never gets past the less than natural way Haneke films this But as a whole, my biggest gripe with the film comes down this: IT IS BORING. IT IS VERY VERY BORING. In part because of the lack of emotional resonance I suppose, I did not feel involved with the story much. I'll even admit that as someone who watched it on a screener on my laptop, at times during the film I was surfing websites online just to make the film go by faster. That's the sign that the movie failed. Amour could've been a great film but in the end it's a calculated, on the nose bore that I have no interest in ever seeing again.
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