Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review: "Amour" is a Great Love Story Coming to an End

Left to right: Jean Louis-Trintignant and Emmannuelle Riva
One of the great perks of the Oscars this year was director Michael Haneke's surprise Best Picture/Best Director nominations for Amour. While foreign films have managed to sneak into the Best Picture race (the previous being Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), it is a rarity that was met with fine applause that at least the Academy was still recognizing world cinema. True, the Best Foreign Film category may be lacking great films like Holy Motors and Rust and Bone, but it still has some reputable titles like No. However, what is it about Haneke's tale of love in the twilight years that was so enduring, and was it really Best Picture worthy?

The story follows Georges (Jean Louis-Trintignant) and Anne (Emmannuelle Riva) as they enjoy their autumn years. Everything is going well and their grandchildren are living exceptional lives. However, one day, after a neural accident, Anne begins her slow process to death. In what is a prime example of dedication, Georges does his best to make her last moments in good health as great as he can. The story isn't overtly complex, but the themes are all the more painful as a result. This is the result of love gone right. Watching a loved one die is never easy, and the film doesn't sugarcoat the results.

The most impressive aspect of this film is Emmannuelle Riva, whose performance is almost too convincing. From her subtle gestures as she enters paralysis to her exaggerated coughing, there is a sense that Riva is dying. She does it so convincingly that it only becomes more tragic to have to watch Jean Louis-Trintignant say goodbye. She makes her last 30 minutes of the movie a painful example of why Trintignant is probably one of the most dedicated lovers in cinema in 2012. Together, they are a couple that you believe have been together in bliss for years, and unfortunately death is knocking around.

Another great feature of the film is Michael Haneke as a director. Whereas most of the Best Picture nominees feature rapid camera work and cutting to exposition, there isn't much of a story to rush through. Haneke's decision to slowly draw out scenes almost makes it feel like the audience is meditating in their last moments. Finding the haunted beauty that lies in watching someone you love die. Many scenes are simply one takes with people entering and exiting rooms without a single transition shot. Haneke's simplicity gives impact to the story's mundane tone and draws out tension for as long as it can.

Even Haneke's script is very well paced, presenting the decline of Anne's health through a gradual pacing. It is rarely beautiful to look at, but always endearing to hear Georges be open with Eva (Isabelle Huppert) about how she doesn't understand their love. In many ways, this type of love has never been depicted on screen so earnestly before. It isn't glossed over to make a happy ending for anyone but these two lovers.  Haneke is great as convincing us with very little that the real joys in life are the intimate moments that we rarely see, as sad as they get towards the end. With a few allegories sprinkled throughout, Amour is a tough watch, but ultimately a deserving one that reflects on what true love really means when that's all that's left.

Left to right: Isabelle Huppert and Trintignant
I will admit that the slow moving, depressing nature of the film despite the uplifting undertones is not a favorite of mine. True, I admire the stripped down nature, but the simplicity is not going to do it favors against Life of Pi or Argo at the Oscars. I appreciate that the Academy recognized it and Haneke's minimalist nature is a nice change of pace in the Best Director field, but I feel like the film already won for being nominated in those categories. With that said, I feel like the odds are too much against it right now for either.

As established before, I feel like Argo is going to take Best Picture, and Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) for Best Director. Still in the nominations race for Best Original Screenplay, it is an interesting mix between Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, Moonrise Kingdom, Django Unchained, and Flight. I still believe that Zero Dark Thirty is going to take it, though it is an open race right now. However, statistics website Gold Derby have Amour behind Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty with odds of 10:3. Still, possibly a too-simple story against previous category nominees (who in fact battled it out in 2010) is making the film handicapped in some regards. 

However, I feel like Riva's nomination is more than deserved. In a category that is unfairly lead by Silver Linings Playbook actress Jennifer Lawrence, the Best Actress field is only a joke in that Lawrence is leading the pack. My personal favorite Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) has been tailing Lawrence for some time. However, in a positive development, Gold Derby has Riva listed in second behind Lawrence with odds of 3:1 whereas Lawrence has 9:6. I am torn on if I should bet for Riva or Chastain, as both are fantastic (and in many ways superior) performances that reflect why this category is actually pretty solid this year. At very least, we can expect a possible upset by Riva with the way that things are going.

Of course, the most obvious win for Amour will be Best Foreign Film. I have sadly not gotten a chance to see all of the nominees, but so far, the Palm D'or winning Amour is a very strong film and as the Best Picture category usually suggest (which was also the case for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before it), it already has won. Things could be mixed up and the film goes away empty handed, even though getting it five nominations is a success within itself. It got many more people to watch the film than normally would. This is why I feel that the Oscars are a crucial aspect of cinematic culture. Amour manages to come out a champion just by being nominated, even if I feel the amount of wins it will have are a little low.

Will Emmannuelle Riva's amazing performance go unnoticed? Will Michael Haneke have to make an acceptance speech, provided that he shows up? Is this going to boost viewing for the film, or just cause more complaints? Does anyone feel Amour can pull a Best Picture upset this late in the game?

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