Thursday, February 21, 2013

Movie Review: Amour

Emmanuelle Riva
Amour (2012)
Written & Directed by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva

An elderly couple returns from a classical music concert to find that someone had attempted to break into their beautiful apartment while they were away. Little do they know, something far more sinister than some petty thief is about to come along and shatter their comfortable lifestyle.

So begins German-born Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke's quietly devastating portrait of old age and unconditional love.

This French-language gem avoids all the melodrama usually associated with films centred on old age and the loss of a loved one. Anyone who has witnessed the cruel ravages of dementia or Alzheimer's -- or old age, in general -- can attest to the raw authenticity in which Haneke captures the decline of this elderly French couple.

Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) have been married for more than 50 years. Their past -- and their familiarity with one another as longtime companions -- is slowly revealed to us through the little stories they share with one another and the little affectionate gestures with which they communicate. Whether Anne is flipping through an old photo album, commenting on the beauty of life, or Georges is recounting a film that moved him to tears as a child, their marriage and comfortable companionship is a testament to their love for one another. Despite the passage of time, you can see glimpses of the young lovers they once were.

But then Anne suffers a stroke as a result of a blocked carotid artery and the unsuccessful resulting surgery leads to her eventual rapid decline. Georges struggles to care for his wife, resolutely refusing to hand her off to a nursing home.
Jean-Louis Trintignant
Anne suffers the indignities of aging as gracefully as can be expected under such circumstances. She lightly teases her husband as he hovers next to her bed, watching her read a book -- yet, her voice can be quick to sharpen if she feels he's doting on her too much and infringing on her own capabilities.

To watch Georges grapple with decisions and question his actions is equally as heartbreaking to watch as witnessing Anne's slow deterioration and suffering. It's enough to emotionally shatter even the most cynical viewer.

Haneke, as both screenwriter and director, is at the helm of what is arguably the most realistic portrayal of old age ever captured on film. His assured, confident direction and touching dialogue allows his two lead actors to shine. Riva and Trintignant, both acting legends in their native France, are absolute powerhouses here. Riva is absolutely devastating to watch, while Trintignant's subtly nuanced performance as the struggling spouse is just so full of truth that you can literally feel the gravity of his situation. They are beautiful performances, both.

While the film presents you with things you'll fear later in life, it also provides hope that we'll all experience the same unconditional love and support from a spouse, friend or relative that will guide us through advanced age's crueler moments.

Beneath the tragedy of watching a loved one slip away, Amour is an intimate, powerful look at advanced age -- but it's ultimately, above all, a love story.