By Cecilia Cygnar, Niles Public Library
Are your parents still living? Do you have a favorite aunt or uncle who is over 70? If so, you might want to skip this film. Because the subject, themes and characters just may be too much for someone with whom this topic personally resonates. If you are determined, or if you still want to see Amour, please do so, since it is a very well acted, truly touching film…about life and death…about relationships…and about true love and commitment.
Nominated for Oscar’s highest honor, Best Picture, it lost that one (in addition to Best Actress, Directing and Original Screenplay) but won the coveted Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, as well as the Golden Globe for the same category. And unlike some “Best” foreign films, which are more artsy and esoteric than mainstream, Amour is a French film about an older married couple (Anne and Georges) whose relationship is severely tested after the wife has a stroke.
Now, this is not some staid couple. They were both in the arts…piano teachers…and still enjoy concerts and going out, even though they are in their 80s. The first stroke paralyzes one side of her body, so she requires complete help. So, when it hits Anne, it hits a woman still very much vibrant and alive. But, progressively, with more strokes, Anne deteriorates further, becoming non-verbal and unable to eat and drink without assistance. All the while, Georges is there, caring for her…refusing to put her in a home…never giving up on her.
The actress who plays Anne, Emmanuelle Riva, gives an honest, brave performance as the victim of these progressively debilitating health issues. I would most definitely second her Oscar nomination for Best Actress, as well as her BAFTA (the “British” version of the Oscar) win for the same category.
But, as usual with these types of movies, the “other” performance by the actor who is not impaired gets overlooked. And often, as with this film, that performance is just as strong as and sometimes even harder to portray than the person who is incapacitated.
Take Rainman, for instance. Dustin Hoffman received all of the attention and honors for playing the man with autism, but it was Tom Cruise, as the selfish, conflicted brother without the mental or physical affliction, who gave one of his best performances to date.
Here, Georges, played by acclaimed actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, is the one with the emotional, toiling role. He is an expressive, emotive person, unlike his wife, so he has the task of “performing” for both of them, so to speak. Both performances are stellar and alone make the film worth seeing. And the direction by Michael Haneke allows the audience to take everything in. Its slow pace and deliberation never rushes the viewer, rather lingering on whatever is on the screen.
All in all, Amour is a good movie with fantastic performances that is so methodical and realistically shot that it might be hard to watch for some. But, if you can, please do so. I think you will find it worth it.
Amour: 2012, PG-13, 127 minutes, French with English subtitles, directed by Michael Haneke, starring Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert. The Niles Library owns this title on DVD.
About this column: Cecilia Cygnar is the Niles Public Library's film specialist and reviews films from the library's collection.