Monday, February 18, 2013

Amour

Amour tells a story that is universal and easily understood and sympathized with by any audience.  However, the audience that actually wants to watch Amour is decidedly more specific.  I'm not referring to the fact that, by being a French language film, most Americans won't want to watch it (which, sadly, is true).  I'm not referencing the disdain the general public has for "artsy" films, either --- although Amour is certainly a result of a filmmaker who wanted to make a Film with a capital "F".  No, despite its universal themes and uncomplicated story structure, the reason Amour is (in America, anyway) destined for a niche audience is because of its unflinching gaze into old age and death.  That's not a spoiler.  This, however, is a pretty piss-poor trailer:
If the trailer was simply the old man sitting silently for two minutes, that would give you a better ideas of what Amour has in store.
Old Age: The Movie

Amour opens with some firemen breaking down a door in an apartment building and immediately covering their noses and reacting to a stench.  Behind a locked bedroom door --- which has had all the cracks around it taped, for some reason --- they find an elderly woman's dead body, surrounded by dead flowers.  The film then flashes back to an audience at a piano concert.  The camera doesn't focus on anyone in particular, but my eyes were drawn to an older couple.  What attracted my attention to them?  I don't really know; the only thing they did that was special was stand up to let someone else get to their seat.  So, aside from noticing that they're not jerks, I don't know exactly what drew me to them.  The concert begins, and the camera does not switch from this shot of the audience.  When that scene ends, we are introduced to Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), the older couple from the concert audience.  They're a cute old couple, the type that seem to have been together forever.  The next morning, at breakfast, Anne drifts off while she is eating.  It's not a matter of concentration, either; Georges talks to her, touches her face, and dabs her forehead and neck with a damp rag, but she does not respond.
He even tried the "pull a quarter out of her ear" trick.  Nothing.
And then Anne snaps out of it, with no recollection of the previous few minutes.  This was a stroke.  Anne hates hospitals, but Georges insists on calling their doctor.  An operation is required, and it does not solve the problem.  Anne is soon paralyzed on one side and requires Georges' constant attention.
This may look creepy in a still shot, but Anne is doing donuts, which is awesome
There is no silver lining to Anne's situation.  She is going downhill, and both she and Georges know it.  Anne makes him promise not to take her to a hospital or hospice, no matter her condition, so it all just becomes a waiting game.  A watching and waiting game, where the end comes as no surprise.

The acting in Amour is excellent.  Emmanuelle Riva has received acclaim for her sadly realistic portrayal of someone helplessly and unflinchingly approaching death, and with good reason.  It is tough to watch her onscreen because it feels so real and is so sad.  I was actually more impressed by Jean-Louis Trintignant, though.  His role is definitely the more passive of the two (which is odd, considering that his does not involve paralysis), but the camera is on him almost the entire film.  This movie is more about him watching Anne die than it is about Anne dying, and Trintignant was depressingly convincing.  Realizing that helped me make sense of the audience scene from the beginning of the film; we're watching them watch someone else, which prepares us for our role in the rest of the movie.  The only other actor worth mentioning is Isabelle Huppert, who played Georges and Anne's daughter.  She was fine, but her purpose was to approach the situation from another angle, not to add much to the overall story.  I did find her bit about listening to her parents making love a little creepy, but that may simply be because I ***vomit explodes out of my eye sockets from contemplating my own conception***
"You listened to us...?  No wonder spanking didn't bother you!"

wrote and directed Amour.  This isn't the first time I've heard of Haneke, but this is the first of his films I've sat down to watch.  Haneke has a firm grasp on cinematography, and he makes a lot of interesting choices throughout the film --- the camera placement and choice in cuts offer enough subtext to gratify a film class for several weeks.  Haneke also deserves credit for getting such remarkable performances from his cast.  He also makes the brave choice to let the audience figure out what the characters are thinking instead of spelling it out.  This is a slowly paced film, as the main premise would suggest, but Haneke also managed to insert a surprisingly effective scary moment and a few sprinkles of humor here and there.  From a technical standpoint, Amour had excellent direction.

That doesn't mean that I actually like Amour, though.  It had great acting and direction, true.  But for a movie to be this far from enjoyable, I needed to feel more.  And I was never that invested in Anne or Georges.
Don't look shocked.
I was expecting Amour to be a great big ball of artsy pain, but I was surprised at how little I felt when the movie ended.  Was I a little uncomfortable?  Absolutely.  But did I tear up?  Not at all.  And that's bizarre, given the fact that this is the old age equivalent of a snuff film.  I'm an easy mark for characters that have under-appreciated devotion, too, and while I understood Georges' pain, I was never connected to it.  It's almost like the artistic statement being made via the cinematography (we are an audience watching an audience) separated me from the tragedy, so I was emotionally divorced from the culmination of the plot.  I saw this in the theater, and the response from the audience was muted at the end.  I looked around and saw nothing but dry eyes, so this isn't just a weird Brian Thing.  I appreciate the craftsmanship that went into Amour, but I think it was a missed opportunity for a truly touching film.  Oh, and for the record, this movie is the absolute worst advertisement for old age ever.  I've never taken too much stock in the "live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse" life plan, but Amour makes that look like a wise choice.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to look into how to find some hookers and blow...and --- let's be honest --- probably research ways to dispose of the bodies of prostitutes.

If you have seen the movie, then you'll appreciate this: the mouth-breathing idiots sitting next to me in the theater (who liked to discuss not-at-all-confusing plot points out loud) actually said this when Georges is having his nightmare: "Uh-oh...somebody's in the apartment!"  Really?  Really???  The movie about old people dying is suddenly going to turn into a hostage movie a third of the way in?  I heard them discussing the plot summary before the movie began, and yet they still mistook this European subtitled drama for The Strangers.
"I just dreamed that someone confused this for a horror movie!"

Here's a clip of what I've had running through my head while writing this reveiw.  I had never actually heard this version, from The Caddy ever before, so I was shocked when it hit 1:29.  Someone should have shot that poor animal and put it out of its misery.

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