Saturday, January 26, 2013

Amour (2012)


There is nothing fake or plastic about Amour.  It will show you to an unpleasant degree the ways the human body, once capable and independent, will break down until the inevitable end finally descends.  Depressing?  Moribund?  Why shy away from it, this is the one guarantee which will happen to all of us.  Hopefully, you have someone with you at the end to lean on.

Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) has Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).  After decades together in marriage, Anne is about to start her path towards the end.  First, she stares off into space for a full two minutes while Georges tries to bring her around, then the first stroke hits.  Fast forward and Anne is in a wheelchair but still has the use of the left side of her body.  She can still read, enjoy music, converse, and try and convince Georges not to worry so much. 

Music is quite important to both of them.  An early scene has the camera on a stage staring into the audience.  You do not see the action on the stage but quickly realize it is a piano concert performed by a master.  When the master, Alexandre Tharaud (playing himself) comes to visit Anne, we learn she was his teacher and a skilled player herself.  Amour's script never cheats.  It take time to learn Alexandre was a pupil and that both Anne and Georges were performers.  Another woman visits, Eva (Isabelle Huppert) and it is only a after a time we learn she is their daughter.  

Mainly classified as a French art-film, Amour is also a candidate for kitchen-sink realism.  There are not too many movies where there are dirty dishes in the sink, this mars the aesthetic.  In Amour though, dishes are consistently scrubbed, the tea pot persistently kept full, and after awhile, the realities of aiding Anne with her toilet regimen takes on a whole new realism of its own.  Anne is extremely proud and independent.  For her body to fail and require diapers, someone else to shower her and brush her hair is as close to agony as any of the real pain she feels.  

Director Michael Haneke tells the entire story in flashback.  The opening scene shows firemen breaking down the door, a concerned concierge, and tape molded around door frames.  The ending is shown to the audience even before we first see either Anne or Georges.  Since the central themes are the emotional pains of a decomposing body and stark ideas about mortality, there is only one logical ending for the story to have.  It is interesting that Haneke chooses to start the film in this manner.  The concluding scenes make more sense and perhaps move at a brisker pace than they would have had Haneke not pulled back the curtain already; however, any suspense the audience would have had for what happens in the end is curtly nipped in the bud.

Since Amour is a Haneke film, not everything will be straight forward as he has a reputation of making the audience work overtime during and after the movie thinking about and discussing what a character's real motivations are and who may or may not be behind an act.  Remember how open-ended Cache (2005) and The White Ribbon (2009) were.  I still have no clear idea about certain events which happen in those movies.  While The Piano Teacher (2001) was just as intimate but in an entirely different way, Amour is much deeper and cuts no corners showing Anne and Georges accepting little by little the new parts they must play.    

In a way, Amour is also a realistic horror film.  Imagining yourself growing old, losing your abilities, and requiring someone else to perform the simplest task for you is downright scary.  What adds even more weight to it is we know it will happen someday.  None of us are going to figure out a way around it or buy it off.  Here's to hoping we have someone there so we don't have to go through it alone.

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