Friday, November 9, 2012


Michael Haneke, the infamous German provocateur whose boldly prankish calling card has been well-established with recent films like The White Ribbon, Cache, The Piano Teacher and both versions of Funny Games.  He's always been a just out of reach filmmaker, one of nearly heightened, but impeccable precision, but whose films, or morality plays, are more to the eyes of the beholder than what apparent on screen.  There's a sense of surprise-- to some, perhaps, relief-- that his latest, the Palme D'Or-winning Amour, is in essence, not just his simplest film, but also his softest.  No mistake for the devout, this is still a pointed Haneke feature, one that's often chilly, and presented without the slightest hint of sentiment or polemics.  Yet there's a profoundly lived-in texture and emotional gravitas that as the film.  For a film revolving around an elderly couple nearing the end of the their lives, Haneke tackles this prickly subject matter with utmost steadfastness, instilling a delicacy but an on the nose poignancy that feels earned.

Master class actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, a longtime married couple, both retired music teachers.  We settle into their daily routines, each finely attuned and vividly accessed by Haneke's ease and the actors grace.  Over breakfast one ordinary morning Anne starts to blank and drift off. So acutely but nearly unsettling in it's stillness, Haneke expresses something that anyone who has experienced an elderly loved ones progression will likely have an instantaneous blend of terror and sorrow.  Georges tries to call his beloved wife back, frightened of the possibilities.  What's remarkable about Amour is that Haneke shoots his picture with the same nearly off-center approach as most of his movies, leaving the audience to discovery the meaning for themselves, but opens up the performances to the extent that the pathos feel natural, calming and riveting. 

As Anne's health deteriorates the emotional scenes from a long marriage come across so vividly.  The promises Anne latches onto the Georges, the physical and emotional difficulty of the most natural of things, the conclusion to ones life is expressed with such eloquence and fluidity.  Trintignant and Riva are so raw-- perhaps to a fault-- that parts of Amour are at times unsettling due to it's honesty.  The drama transfers the tensions, the anxiety, the dementia, but what grounds everything is the everyday, workman duties of both Georges and Anne, and the through line of a marriage clearly cemented with love, affection and tremendous passion.  That the performers can tap into the ugliness of old age with such a delicate ease, yet paint a vivid frame of characters marked by so much history and joy at once is quietly beautiful. Riva, especially, gives such a raw, impeccable, nearly brave performance, it passes into the echelon and undoes countless sham artistic impressions of growing old.  There's no vanity nor screeches of sentiment put into Riva's Anne, instead just an authentic expression of an everyday woman, fully stitched, and given a full range of character, from resentment to euphoria.  There's a nearly whimsical early scene of Anne playing with the automated controls of her wheelchair that come across playful without being silly.   

That Haneke nearly drifts away letting his remarkable performers be is a miracle.  Even as some of his flourishes come into the film, especially toward the end, that distract the respectful, but never earnest, subject, the two leads anchor Amour with just that.  B+

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