Review: Amour (Haneke, 2012)

Still from the movie Amour

Amour was nominated for an Oscar Best Picture last year, a rare achievement for a foreign-language film. (The last time a non-English film was nominated for Best Picture was in 2001: Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) It also won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and scores of other accolades.

I can’t help viewing a film like this differently than, say, American Hustle or its ilk. Why? Is it because it has a more “high brow” feel to it? As in, “this is art, beware”? Certainly it’s a spare film. There’s no soundtrack, not even during the beginning and ending credits, unless you count the thirty seconds during which the piano concert music bleeds in from the previous scene. Neither is there much dialogue. The two protagonists are an old, comfortable couple, Georges and Anne, who live alone together in a large Paris flat. Many scenes are designed to convey their quiet life together–pans of them sleeping, eating, reading, listening to music, shots of the paintings in their home. Nothing is happening during these moments, and nothing distracts you from the fact that nothing is happening, which may be quite uncomfortable for the typical American movie watcher. There is time enough to hear your partner shift his legs, time enough for you to be reminded to shift your own legs, time enough to wonder if you’re maybe too facile an audience member for this type of thing.

The premise of the movie is this: Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) falls ill, in the grievous, unrecoverable way of the elderly, and her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) takes care of her. She is a former piano instructor (of high caliber, it appears); his previous profession is never disclosed, though in one scene we see that he also plays the piano fairly well. Along the way, their irritating, meddlesome daughter (Isabelle Huppert) visits (once, twice), falls into hysterics at her mother’s condition (understandably, I suppose) and tries with all the arrogance of youth to command the situation.

Given this storyline, I posit that the film could not have been made in a better way. Though sparse, the dialogue is used to maximum effect. The care by husband toward wife displayed in this movie is strikingly intimate, painstakingly depicted. And then it becomes clear why there must not be extraneous sound, why there must not be any adornment. That decoration would just be cheap dross to hang on this quite real, quite human tragedy unfolding before us. I don’t need to add that Emmanuelle Riva is exquisite as the ravaged but still spirited and proud Anne.

Everything in this film is precise, perfect, and quite beautiful, actually, in hindsight.