Sunday, 24 February 2013

Amour

Academy Award Nominations: 5

·         Best Picture
·         Best Director (Michael Haneke)
·         Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva)
·         Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke)
·         Best Foreign Language Film

Anne and Georges are retired music teachers living in Paris, while their daughter lives abroad. Life is fine for the two until Anne suffers a stroke. She undergoes surgery to fix a blocked artery but it goes wrong and Anne becomes paralysed down one side of her body. Life becomes harder as Georges struggles too adapt to taking care of Anne and Anne struggles to adapt to a life of assistance. Then, as soon as things seem to be going well, Anne suffers another stroke and becomes confined to her bed, barely able to speak. Will the love between the two keep them going despite the hardships in their way?

Michael Haneke is a film documentarian. By this, I mean he likes to create films which, rather than create drama, look in on people's lives as a natural drama unfolds. He creates a window into his characters lives for a brief period. He also has a tremendous back catalogue to fall back on. From his break out film Funny Games which has become a cult hit, every film he's made since has been better and better received. The Piano Teacher (2001) took home a couple of awards from around the world. Cache (2005) took home even more. The White Ribbon (2009) even more still and now we're at Amour, a simple story about the love between a man and his wife, and yet so complex and subtle that it has critics positively gushing at the mere mention of it, and now it becomes only the ninth foreign language film to be nominated for Best Picture. Can it live up to the hype though? Heartbreakingly, yes.

Amour is such a simple story about the love between a man and his wife despite what life throws in their way, and yet it's the subtlety of the story telling that marks this film out above all other sentimental/emotional dramas out there at the moment. There's the dialogue between the two characters that sets the scene and sets out the basics for where the characters are at that moment in time on a base level, but underneath that is the subtle looks, glances, gestures and movements all done without words that spell out so much more than a heavy handed piece of dialogue would have done. It's the same technique Haneke employed in Cache, with the visual image speaking louder than the dialogue and it had a tremendous effect on setting the tone for each scene and the film in general, and yet he re-employs it here to even greater effect because of the nature of the storyline. It's a perfect match for his style of film making, something he almost perfected in The White Ribbon because of the delicate nature of that particular story, but gets it absolutely spot on here.

That's down in no small part to the performances of the two lead roles: Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges and Emmanuelle Riva as Anne. Around 95% of this film is purely the two of them on screen and they are an absolute delight to watch together, their on screen relationship just seems so real and genuine and pure that you become emotionally invested  in how the two get on with things and how they end up. Trintignant is great is Georges, constantly showing a stiff upper lip in the face of agony as he must watch his wife deteriorate, only occasionally slipping and letting his emotions out, much in the same way any ordinary human would be in real life. However, it's Emmanuelle Riva and her performance as Anne that's getting all the headlines and rightfully so. Her performance is pitch perfect as a woman who's first struck with partial paralysis, then deteriorates to the point of helplessness, only able to cry out "hurt" repeatedly. It's agonising to watch a formerly strong character at the beginning of the film deteriorate so rapidly and painfully over the course of the two hours, and it's something that Riva is able to pull off phenomenally.

On top of that, it's Haneke's writing and direction which have made Amour such a sensation. I would argue at this point that Haneke's trademark as a film maker is 'lingering', staying in a scene for maybe a miute or two longer than any other film maker would have in order to capture a sense of real life unfolding on the screen rather than just a snapshot of it. It captures emotion and develops thee story better than it would have done had the film been made with short takes and only small glances of Georges and Anne. It's a fantastic way of telling this story and matches the plot perfectly; in essence, all the elements of film making fall into sync with Amour.

I don't really know what to tell you, there just isn't a better dramatic film out there that I've seen in recent memory than Amour. It's heartbreaking, it's engaging, and above all else it's just simple. No fancy camera angles or heavy handed dialogue, it's all spelt out for you on the screen purely through acting and simple camera work. It'll never win Best Picture, of course, being a foreign language film, but if there was a time for it, it would be now. The Artist won with zero dialogue last year, so why not a film wining with French dialogue? This is the world we live in, where America can seemingly no longer compete with Europe, despite their very best efforts.

Rating: *****

Amour was released on 16th November 2012 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.