Amour (2012)

Love can be a scary, terrifying thing.

Love can be a scary, terrifying thing.

(2012) Drama (Sony Classics) Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramon Agirre, Rita Blanco, Carole Franck, Dinara Drukarova, Laurent Capelluto, Jean-Michel Monroc, Suzanne Schmidt, Damien Jouillerot, Walid Akfir. Directed by Michael Haneke

For most of us, our fondest wish is to find someone to grow old with. We look at growing old as a pleasant thing, our hair turning white and our skin wrinkled, holding hands with our loved one as we are surrounded with children and grandchildren, living lives in retirement of quiet pride in a life well-lived.

Growing old though is no golden-hued trip down an autumnal lane. It’s not for the faint of heart and even though we may have the company of someone we love, it isn’t necessarily a Hallmark card.

Police break down the doors in a Paris apartment and are immediately are met by an unpleasant stench. They search the room and find a decomposing corpse. There had been a nurse but she hadn’t been seen around lately. Mail had been piling up.

We flash back and see a piano concert. More to the point, we see the audience, rapt and moved by the impassioned playing of Alexandre (Tharaud), who is a former pupil of Anne (Riva). She and her husband Georges (Trintignant), both Parisian music teachers now retired and in their 80s, attend the recital and go backstage to greet Alexandre but he is surrounded by well-wishers and so they leave gracefully and return home.

At breakfast though, Anne suddenly stops reacting. Her mind seems to go away and when it comes back she has no memory of having gone despite several long minutes having passed. Georges is concerned but Anne has a pathological fear of hospitals…but when she has a major stroke, she is forced to stay at one for awhile. When she returns home, her right side is paralyzed.

At first it’s a bloody inconvenience. Anne is still much the same forceful, strong woman she’s always been but now she must rely on Georges for more and more. Soon it becomes necessary to hire a nurse (Franck). Georges and Anne’s daughter Eva (Huppert) who is a touring musician herself, visits from New York with her obsequious English husband Geoff (Shimell) and is aghast but seems more concerned with the physical deterioration than with the emotional burden that both George and Anne are bearing. They both know where this is going and how it inevitably is going to end.

This is the Austrian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year although it was filmed in Paris and French is predominantly spoken (some dialogue is in English). Haneke is an Austrian and the film was produced by French, German and Austrian sources. It also is the rare movie that also netted a Best Picture nomination – every movie that previously got that double nomination has won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Riva also has a Best Actress nomination while Haneke got Best Director and Best Screenwriter nominations as well.

The story is a very personal one for Haneke who watched it happen in his own family. Nearly all the action (other than the scenes in the recital hall early in the film) takes place in the apartment and in that circumstance the movie could easily feel stage-y or claustrophobic but it never does. This has become their entire world. It gives us a good sense of how their world begins to shrink down to just the two of them.

Riva is amazing here. It’s a gutsy performance because there is no glamour whatsoever to it other than initially. The indignities of becoming infirm are well on display and Riva, best known here for her sexy turn in Hiroshima Mon Amour shows them with an unblinking eye, allowing you to share in her despair and frustration. She’s been one of France’s top actresses for half a century and here you see why.

Trintignant came out of semi-retirement to act in this movie. Also one of France’s leading thespians (with astonishing performances in A Man and a Woman, Z and Red) his performance here is central to the film. It is harder to watch the deterioration of a loved one than to be the one deteriorating in many ways, and you can see his pain and frustration in his eyes. His work here has largely been overshadowed by Riva’s and in all honesty deservedly so but that doesn’t make his performance any less important or less commendable.

The scene in the concert hall is masterful and I think a fairly defining shot for Haneke. We don’t see the performance but merely the reactions to it. We are voyeurs as it were, watching the watchers Georges and Anne among them, their faces drawing you to them even though at that point in the movie you don’t know who they are. While the scene may appear to be innocuous and non-germane to the overall story, it’s a moment that stays with you and then long after the credits role you realize that Haneke was telling you what your own role in the movie is about to be. It’s brilliant and reminds me once again why he’s perhaps the best filmmaker in the world that you’ve never heard of.

This is one of last year’s most acclaimed movies and justifiably so. There are some shocks and some moments that may be uncomfortable for you – it can be argued that we are given too much access. There are those who will find Anne’s deterioration depressing but to be truthful it is a part of life. Old age as I said earlier isn’t necessarily a Hallmark card. It’s indignity and infirmity, aches and pains, organs breaking down and senses not working right. It is a natural progression in our lives but it isn’t an easy one.

The title is well-considered. Love is easily described as never having to say you’re sorry but that’s just the Hollywood version. In truth love is not those easy moments where you have make-up sex, or a snuggly Sunday morning. Love is caring for your partner when they are incapable of caring for themselves. Love is changing the diaper on the woman you used to make love to. Love is hearing them berate you and understanding it’s the situation and the pain talking and refusing to respond in kind. Love is being there until the bitter end and sometimes, doing something so painful that your soul shrivels and dies inside you but if it takes away the pain of the one you love, it’s worth it.

REASONS TO GO: Thought-provoking. Deals with real world issues in a relationship and in aging.

REASONS TO STAY: Some may find it a bit depressing although they will be missing the point if they do.

FAMILY VALUES:  The themes are very adult. There is one scene that is graphic and disturbing. There are a few bad words and a brief scene of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Riva is the oldest woman to be nominated for an Oscar at 83; she received her nomination the same day that Quvenzhane Wallis became the youngest nominee at age 9 for Beasts of the Southern Wild.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/20/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 94/100; the reviews are excellent.



NEXT: The Myth of the American Sleepover


New Releases for the Week of February 15, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard


(20th Century Fox) Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yulia Snigir, Cole Hauser, Amaury Nolsco, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Anne Vyalitsyna. Directed by John Moore

There’s this guy, see; he’s always in the middle of big trouble. I’m not talking about got caught up in a bar fight, came home with lipstick on your collar trouble, I mean the kind where things go bang, cars fly through the air like gazelles and you have a machine gun the size of a killer whale strapped to your shoulder. I mean, there’s always Russian rogue leaders breaking out of prison and threatening the world with nuclear holocaust, right? This is the first big blockbuster of 2013 and it opens Wednesday February 13th at 10pm.

See the trailer, clips, a promo and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for violence and language)


(Sony Classics) Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Hupert, Alexandre Tharaud. A couple in their 80s, French music teachers, have entered the twilight of their lives with dignity and grace. A medical issue however will sorely test the bonds of their long-time love and their daughter, who lives in the United States must come home and help pick up the pieces. This Oscar-nominated film is the latest in a long line of distinguished films from director Michael Haneke.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language)

Beautiful Creatures

(Warner Brothers) Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum. A small town boy falls for a mysterious young girl who is approaching a milestone birthday. However, when the big day comes it won’t just be cake and ice cream; it is going to be a world-hanging-in-the-balance thing where she must decide whether to use her nascent powers of witchcraft for good or for evil. Opening on Thursday.

See the trailer, promos, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, scary images and some sexual material)

Escape from Planet Earth

(Weinstein) Starring the voices of Brendan Fraser, Rob Corddry, James Gandolfini, Jane Lynch. A hotshot astronaut answers a planetary distress signal and winds up captured by the foul, nefarious aliens who live there.  It will be up to his more Type B brother to rescue him and other creatures who have been captured by the cruelest most vicious race in the universe – the humans.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for action and some mild rude humor)


(Great India) Prabhas, Anushka Shetty, Richa Gangopadhyay, Satya Raj. An Indian architect living in Milan falls in love with an ex-pat with a troubled past. Vowing to help reform her family, he runs into long-standing feuds and a connection with his own past. He will soon be forced into a situation in which his new love may not be enough to save her family or his own.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR  

Safe Haven

(Relativity) Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, David Lyons, Cobie Smulders. A young woman on the run from her past finds herself in a small seaside North Carolina town. She remains secretive and guarded at first but slowly warms up to the communicated and a handsome widowed father and store owner. But the past has a way of catching up with you and the violence she’d been meaning to escape finds her at last. Opening on Thursday.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romance

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving threatening behavior, and for violence and sexuality)

Cache (Hidden)

Juliette Binoche gets a call from the library regarding overdue books.

Juliette Binoche gets a call from the library regarding overdue books.

(Sony Classics) Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Maurice Benichou, Annie Girardot, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydes, Aissa Maiga, Caroline Baehr. Directed by Michael Haneke.

I have to admit that as a young man, I was abysmally ignorant of French cinema. I tended to look down on it, feeling that it was too cerebral and too pretentious for my tastes. I demeaned critics who had an appreciation for it, sneering that they didn’t like anything that wasn’t subtitled.

Times change and people change with it. I have grown to embrace French films and French culture. I’ve come to appreciate that not every director in France is making movies that require one to think about and puzzle over until one’s head explodes. Some of the most charming comedies I’ve seen recently are French; some of the most intense action movies I’ve seen have also been French. I’ve even seen some terrifying horror movies that are French. In my opinion, French filmmaking is as alive and vibrant today as it has ever been. It has even prompted me to catch up on some things I used to turn away from.

Cache begins with a video, innocently enough, of the front of an innocuous looking house. People come and go down the street, completely oblivious to the fact that they are on camera. However, the occupants of the house are considerably more puzzled. A videotape has been delivered to them of their home, without any note or explanation. Georges Laurent (Auteuil), who hosts a literary round table discussion program on French television, is puzzled. Why would anyone videotape the front of their home? It’s not an architectural gem – far from it. It’s just an ordinary suburban townhouse. His wife Anne (Binoche) finds it unsettling. The videotape itself is unthreatening – it just seems to indicate that somebody is watching them.

Days go by and additional videotapes arrive. They are of different locations, but of the same nature as the first; an unwavering eye on a place that is of some importance to the Laurents. Coming as well are postcards with unsettling drawings, but again no explanation. The police won’t help them because there are no overt threats.

In one of the videos, a streetscape, Georges is able to freeze-frame one image on which he is able to read a street name. Deciding to take action, he follows the path of the video without telling Anne about it. He eventually arrives at an apartment and the person inside is someone he knows – more I will not say about the identity of this person, other than to say he is not likely the author of the videos. In the meantime, the Laurents life goes on with some degree of normalcy; they give dinner parties, they deal with their exasperating son Pierrot (Makedonsky).

Anne eventually finds out about Georges’ investigations, and feels betrayed. Georges is obviously keeping secrets from her, secrets about his past. The videos continue to arrive. She is unable to trust him; he is unable to fully explain what she wants to know. He is emotionally detached, and growing less and less able to remain in touch with his feelings.

This is as unsettling a movie as you are ever going to see. Director Haneke (who won an award at Cannes for his work here) echoes the looks of the video by keeping his camera stationary most of the time, offering an unflinching look at the Laurents and their lives. It is a fascinating insight into the lives of the Parisian upper middle class, showing a home full of books but with the television constantly on. It’s a slice of life with a side of subversive.

Auteuil and Binoche are two of the best actors in France, and they are dependable time after time. They make a believable married couple – on the same page most of the time, but not always. They have their issues, but they also are drawn close together. Auteuil can be frustrating and difficult to read, but he is exceptional here; he’s genuine and real at every turn; nothing about his performance rings false. Binoche is not just a beautiful movie star; she’s a terrific actress. She is not glamorous at all in this role – she’s a housewife, after all – but her chemistry with Auteuil is undeniable.

This is not the kind of thriller that makes you jump out of your seat. It’s more of an undercurrent of tension that grows slowly and organically. You know something is wrong, something is not quite right and it just raises the hair on the back of your neck, but you can’t put your finger on it…and as the movie progresses as things begin to be pieced together, that feeling of unease grows.

I’m deliberately omitting much of the detail about the movie – this is a movie meant to be experienced as a whole without its secrets being spilled. It’s a movie that isn’t always what it seems to be, and those in it aren’t always who they seem to be. There is much delight in the details, and often you can glean information from seemingly unimportant visual clues. This is the kind of movie that is going to appeal to people who like jigsaw puzzles; it very much feels like something that you have to put together for yourself. The best part is that the image it forms won’t be the same for any two people.

WHY RENT THIS: A slice of life of the French upper class intellectuals that has a disturbing edge. The chemistry between the leads is genuine, and they portray a couple that certainly could exist in real life.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s very subtle and can be infuriating trying to figure out where the movie is going. Certain segments of the DVD-renting audience will find it too much work.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a horrifying scene that happens very suddenly and dramatically that may be too much for youngsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: There is no music whatsoever in the film save for the theme to Georges’ television show.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A documentary on director Michael Haneke.