Oscar Preview Movie Review: Amour


by Ryan Robinson, Staff Writer

A group of fireman breaks down a locked door to an apartment. At first glance, it seems abandoned. The door to the bedroom is taped and locked shut. Once the door is forced open, the corpse of an elderly woman is revealed lying peacefully in the bed, adorned with flowers.

These are the first shots of Amour, winner of the Palme D’Or at the 2012 Cannes film festival and nominee for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film tells the emotional story of an elderly retired couple whose life is dramatically changed after the wife suffers from a devastating stroke. Amour is new territory for director Michael Haneke, who is more known for bleak, enigmatic films (Caché) and horror-satires (Funny Games) than a heartbreaking journey like Amour. Haneke is up for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards and Amour has been nominated for Best Picture.

The elderly couple, Anne and Georges, who were music teachers before their retirement, is played by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both legends of French Cinema. Riva starred in the 1959 New-Wave masterpiece Hiroshima, Mon Amour, and Trintignant has starred in the great films Z and The Conformist. Now both in their 80s, the actors are not immediately recognizable, but still display the elegance of classic stars. Both give incredible performances. Riva is a front runner for Best Actress at the Academy Awards – the oldest actress to ever be nominated.

Immediately following the image of the deceased Anne, the opening credits play against a black background. The pre-credits scene is important, revealing that Anne will die, saving the audience from suspense, and bringing the emotions into focus for the rest of the film. After the opening credits, the movie returns, now several months before the first scene. Georges and Anne are seated in an auditorium, waiting for a concert to begin. The shot is from far away, to where we can see the whole crowd, but Haneke frames the shot in such a way that our eyes are drawn immediately to Georges and Anne. Sometime after they get home from the concert, Georges and Anne are eating dinner together in their kitchen, partaking in light conversation. Suddenly, Anne’s eyes gloss over and she seems to stop noticing anything, just staring ahead into space. “What’s wrong, Anne?” Georges asks, but she does not respond. She is having a stroke, and their simple life together will never be the same again.

Throughout the rest of the film, Anne becomes steadily unhealthier, and is soon unable to walk and talk, nor to eat and bathe herself. Georges stays loyally by her side, and nurses visit the house regularly. Their grown up daughter, Eva, played convincingly by frequent Haneke collaborator Isabelle Huppert, stops by regularly and is frustrated with Georges for refusing to put Anne in a nursing home. Anne has made Georges promise not to send her to a home, and Georges would rather take care of her than be separated from her. Anne knows that her time is limited. Toward the end she simply loses her will to live. Emmanuelle Riva plays the role spectacularly, and holds the film together with her convincing portrayal of every situation. The majority of the film is set in the apartment belonging to Georges and Anne; Haneke and cinematographer Darius Khondjii make the most of limited space, bringing visual excitement to each brilliantly composed shot.

Amour is one of only nine foreign language films to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and the first since Life is Beautiful in 1997. In my opinion it more than earns that nomination and deserves to win. I have not seen such an emotionally impacting film in years. It is one of a kind, and a can’t miss for fans of tearjerkers who don’t mind reading subtitles. The film has already opened in limited release, and should be coming to a local theater in the next few weeks.