Friday, January 25, 2013

Amour (2012)

5 Nominations, Wins To Be Determined

Nomination: Best Picture - Nominees To Be Determined
Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film - Nominees To Be Determined
Nomination: Best Director - Michael Haneke
Nomination: Best Actress in a Leading Role - Emmanuelle Riva
Nomination: Best Original Screenplay - Michael Haneke

Films with the word "Love" in the title are usually light comedic fare (Love, Actually; Everyone Says I Love You) or overwrought romances (Love and Other Drugs, P.S. I Love You), exploring either the fun and exciting side of love or the yearnings of unrequited love.  Director Michael Haneke's films are usually described with adjectives like dark or subversive, and his film about love, Amour, explores the darkest side of love: the end of love, not the beginning.

Georges and Anne (the common name for leading characters in Haneke's films) are first introduced to us as an elderly Parisian couple with the ultimate cinematic signifier of sophistication, a love of classical music.  As we watch the two go about their ordinary life, Anne tells of a burglar who has recently broken into a nearby home.  This act sounds all the more awful because of how the burglar broke into the home, entering through the ceiling instead of the front door.  This seemingly throwaway bit of dialogue becomes the central metaphor of the film, as Anne has a sudden blockage in her cartoid artery, the artery that supplies the head with oxygenated blood, leading to a flood of health problems that leaves her a shell of her former self.

The ailing spouse plot is not new to cinema, but has rarely, if ever, been told with the same maturity and complexity as it is in Amour.  Like the wonderful 2006 film Away From Her, Amour asks the difficult questions about the extent of love and what love really means, instead of simply seeking to reduce the audience to a weepy state, as in The Notebook.  As we see Georges's heart break as he painfully watches his wife bathed by a nurse or as he unhesitatingly checks whether his wife has soiled her diaper, we see acts of love far deeper than any Lloyd Dobler-esque boombox demonstration or rain-soaked apology/declaration.  Haneke's films look at some of the darkest aspects of humanity, but they also show how humans react to these aspects, and in Amour we see how love can cause us to react to the worst circumstances in the most heroic manner imaginable.  Amour has been repeatedly described as a depressing film, and while it is hardly lighthearted fare, it is one of the truest love stories in years.

Amour is very much Michael Haneke's film in the auteur sense of the word, but as much as the film is the product of his vision, the film's success must also be attributed to the brilliance of the two leads, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.  Riva's nomination as Best Actress was well deserved, and though I have not yet seen Jessica Chastain's performance in Zero Dark Thirty, of the four nominated performances I have seen Riva would easily earn my vote as Best Actress.  Much of the praise she has received has centered around her ability to portray Anne in her illness, but what should not be overlooked is her ability to transition from that illness to her few moments of clarity, switching from uncomprehending confusion to intelligent curiosity with supreme fluidity.  The difficulty of such transitions in a performance as deep as in Amour cannot be overstated, and Riva's ability to move between what amounts to two very different characters is stunning.

Though Riva's performance has garnered more attention, Trintignant is equally brilliant in a less showy but no less demanding role.  His eyes display such love and compassion for his character's wife, even in the most horrifying of conditions, and he exerts maximum restraint as an actor as he fights with his Georges's daughter over the decisions relating to Anne's care.  This is a sophisticated and heartbreaking performance of the highest order, and the lack of a nomination as Best Actor is a disappointing oversight by the Academy.  Still, it is rare that the Academy gives such recognition to a foreign language film, and Amour has rightly been recognized by the Academy for its deep and sophisticated look at a subject that is too rarely treated with such care.

No comments:

Post a Comment