Film Review: Amour

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Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give moving performances in the critically-praised Amour. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give moving performances in the critically-praised Amour.

Final verses: Amour is a beautifully complex and compassionate look at love at the end of life

A loving married couple, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges, (Jean-Louis Trintignant), both retired music teachers in their 80s, find their marriage taking a markedly different turn when Anne suffers a stroke. At first, Anne is able to retain something of her former self. She’s confined to a wheelchair, but has control of one side of her body.

Then things get worse—and quickly. What makes this end-of-life story different from all the cheery and stupid end-of-life stories out there (such as, say, The Bucket List) is its unsentimental take on Anne’s condition. There are no wistful visits to the beach or goodbyes from the grandchildren. There is deterioration. And then there’s Georges’ devotion, determination, and ambivalence.

The following sentence is not hyperbole: Amour is the best movie of 2012. Nowhere will you find a more honest and complex story told with such ease, care, and compassion.

Writer and director Michael Haneke is best known for films that deal with the extremes of human behavior. Anyone who has seen either of his movies titled Funny Games (one in German, one in English) knows that, and has seen his nasty streak. Haneke’s Caché deals with decades old betrayals, and The White Ribbon is, among other things, an examination of cruelty.

So to those viewers familiar with Haneke’s work, fear not. No one bursts into the home unannounced and then tortures the family to death. The drama all comes from within, as bodies fail and people react.

The performances go a long way in making a beautifully written screenplay come to life on screen. Riva is as wonderful as you’ve heard, capturing Anne’s physical breakdown so naturally that it sometimes seems as if Riva is suffering the same ailment as her character.

Trintignant’s performance has been eclipsed somewhat by (deserved) praise for his co-star. But this is a movie about two people living out their final days, and Trintignant complements Riva. That odd combination of simmering anger and tenderness that he uses so well in Trois Couleurs: Rouge is on display here, as Georges struggles to maintain his partnership with Anne while protecting her dignity (or at least that’s what he intends to do), and maybe his.

Amour takes place almost entirely inside Georges and Anne’s Paris apartment, and what could be a stifling cinematic trap becomes another character thanks to smart production design and deceptively simple camera work. The apartment, once a wonderful home, slowly becomes a tomb, but we don’t realize it until Georges does.

One of the remarkable things about Amour is the way it seems familiar but still takes unexpected turns. The opening scene tells much of the story (and is a reason I don’t feel too badly about giving away some plot points), but like any marriage, you only know everything about it when you’re in it. And we’re in Georges and Anne’s marriage.

The awards season is absurd, but if was any justice in arts and culture, Amour would’ve won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. See it. Now.

Amour/PG-13, 126 minutes/Vinegar Hill Theatre

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