Review by Pete Mason
Love is the name and theme of “Amour,” the Palme D’Or winner at Cannes and one of the year’s best foreign films throughout America and Europe. Written and directed by Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”), the film follows an elderly couple, retired from years of teaching music and enjoying their later years, until Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke, leading her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to take care of her in a most patient and caring manner.
While it may sound depressing, the film is more a show of the long term effects of a relationship and the love within that does not cease or fade when faced with the beginnings of the end of life. The truest form of love, one that is unwavering in the face of the final stages of life, coupled with Georges’ calculated and paced tending to of his wife as she slowly falls victim to the affects of her multiple strokes is the truest definition of love and justifies the boldly named film.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are far from household names in America, but in France, they are two of the nation’s finest actors, and I would go so far as to compare Trintignant to Jack Nicholson and Riva to Jessica Tandy, both for their patient, calm and reserved demeanors, particularly in their later years. Both are capable of drawing your attention to their every line, their movement and particularly the emotion in their eyes, drawing you in deep enough that it feels as though you are in this large Paris apartment where one half of a couple takes care of the other half as though it were a routine part of life, sans argument or debate.
Even when daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) comes to appeal for additional care, her pleas for hospital and hospice care are rebuffed, for the couple swore they would never let the end of their lives come to that finality – they pledged to aid each other until the end, and with some assistance from family, friends and nurses, Georges succeeds throughout the film in his unfailing duties.
While it is a truly moving performance from Trintignant, even more notable is Riva, who gives a starkly realistic performance of her character as she fades from the symptoms of her stroke, sinking deeper into a geriatric state of muscle atrophy and contractures that leave her weak and defenseless without her husband Georges. Able at the beginning of the film and catatonic by the end, her deterioration is, like the directing and writing, paced to an emotion-filled crawl that progresses at her pace, not that of the story. She flawlessly imitates the slowly fading days for Anne, which is an even loftier feat when you consider that Riva herself is 84; she is convincing and utterly attention grabbing as we see her victimization from stroke.
Nothing in “Amour” feels rushed; the cuts in scenes are abrupt, as though to remind the viewer that this phase of life is filled with repetition and laborious to endure taking part in, so we are presented with scenes of feeding and bathing that are as painful to watch as they are to experience as in real life, but Trintignant’s composure and resolve prevents one from becoming emotional. There is no pity or depression in this film, as sad as it is – this film is about love from start to finish and less the slow end of a life. Simply put, “Amour” is the finest French film to make the crossover to American cinema in quite sometime, perhaps since 1992’s “Indochine,” which won Best Foreign Film, which “Amour is nominated for as well. Additionally, “Amour” has garnered higher honors from the American and British Film Academies, leading to nominations in America for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke), Best Actresss (Riva) and Best Picture, while winning all these categories at the recent BAFTAs.
With effortless patience, Georges waits on his wife and makes every change in routine and daily living for her, all throughout her slow paced deterioration. Schubert’s piano concertos – as well as Bach and Beethoven – provide the soundtrack for a love story between an aging couple that shows the strength of the bonds of love.
“Amour” – rated PG13; in French with subtitles; 127 minutes – is currently playing at the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany and is truly a masterpiece of a film and a testament to the bonds and rigors of love.