Amour (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)

amour 75Michael Haneke has released eight films in the past 16 years; all are absolutely worth seeing, and some are just astoundingly good.

 

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Remember back in 2003 how everyone was going apeshit over Johnny Depp’s performance in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, all saying how great he was and everything? The whole thing was confusing—had they not seen Johnny Depp in a film before? Yes, he was great in Pirates, but he was great in pretty much everything else he’d done in his career.

That’s how I feel about how everyone is reacting to the new Michael Haneke film, Amour. Amour is a good film, but, uh, why is everyone going so crazy over it? Has no one outside of the world’s major film critics noticed that Haneke’s been turning in consistently great work basically his whole career? He’s released eight films in the past 16 years (Amour included), I’ve seen all of them, and I can attest that all eight are absolutely worth seeing, and some of them are just astoundingly good. Is this really news?

Maybe the catch here is that Amour is perhaps his most accessible, humane film. Haneke is not known for his humanity—his tone tends to be absolutely brutal, and while being formally incredible, his movies are often a bear to watch—but Amour sometimes veers toward being, well, sweet. It’s hard not to be, when your film is about cute octogenarians Anne (Emmanuelle Riva, best known for starring in Hiroshima Mon Amour 54 years ago (and this year the oldest Best Actress nominee ever for her role in this film), and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant, of 1970’s The Conformist and many other worthy films). Anne and Georges have been married for many decades and still have a healthy relationship, but are in the waning days of their life. It seems apparent from the outset that Anne is in considerably worse shape than Georges. The movie seems to be about the experience of dying with the one you love, but given that Haneke wrote and directed this sucker, you can’t take anything for granted—for example, it’s not easy to forget that, while healthier on the surface, Georges is awfully old and frail himself.

This all leads to Haneke being able to bridge his despairing tone and something close to misanthropy to a larger audience who usually wouldn’t be terribly inclined to see his films, which often veer very close to horror movie territory. Amour is, of course, a pretty straightforward drama, but the premise does allow for Haneke to do what he does best. Georges answering the doorbell makes for a memorable scene, and despite Georges and Anne being music teachers, Haneke still staunchly refuses to tell the audience how to feel through music (a trait I much admire in him). And there’s some great, typically Hanekeian dialogue here, too, some of which applies very nicely to a synopsis of the movie—for example, Georges talking to his daughter Eva (Haneke regular Isabelle Huppert) on the subject of Anne’s health: “It’ll go steadily downhill for a while, and then it’ll be over.”

The bottom line: Is Amour a better film than, say, The Piano Teacher, or the original Funny Games? I don’t think so. Is Amour a good film? Oh, absolutely. Am I happy that it was nominated for five Oscars (Picture, Actress, Director, Original Screenplay, and Foreign-Language Film)? Yes, quite, especially when you factor in that Haneke didn’t sell out at all to get there. | Pete Timmermann

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