The Beautiful End: Oscar-contender Amour demonstrates the power of heartbreak in long-term love.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
We’re all going to die, and some of us will be lucky enough to grow old gracefully. But what happens when the gracefulness wears off?
That question is at the center of the deeply beating heart of Amour, a touching, wonderful film that depicts a genuine love rarely seen on the big screen.
In France, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are a married couple in their 80s enjoying life together. They’re both retired music teachers, and Anne’s former pupil (Alexandre Tharaud) has gone on to great success. Then Anne has a stroke, and everything changes. She’s paralyzed on her right side and needs a wheelchair. We don’t see the stroke or any of the traumatic events that make her progressively worse, an apt decision by writer/director Michael Haneke that allows us to stay away from histrionics and focus on the love and care Georges shows for Anne.
To that end, we also never see them in a hospital, with a doctor, or anywhere outside their apartment except for the film’s opening moments. Their pain is for them, not the world, to see. It’s as if Haneke wants the viewer to be a fly on the wall in the apartment, unobtrusive yet privy to the day-in, day-out difficulty that’s often overlooked in movies. This is consistent with Haneke’s body of work: He is brutal and relentless in showing us things we don’t want to see (Funny Games), and capable of doing it in a way that resonates with profound emotion.
Watching Anne steadily decline is heartbreaking. There’s a moment when she gets out of bed to get a book from a nearby nightstand, but she falls and can’t get back up. Another time, she wakes up wet and Georges, without hesitation or judgment, cleans up after her.
And as bad as it is for her, think about how torturous it is for Georges to watch the strong woman he’s loved most of his life become completely dependent on others. Trintignant gives Georges a steely exterior – we never see him cry, for example – but we do occasionally glimpse the suppressed anguish on his face. We see Riva often lying in bed under blankets. Her optimism that turns to contentment, then frustration, and then giving up feels palpably real. Trintignant and Riva, both in their 80s, are splendid and deserve every accolade they receive.
Georges and Anne’s daughter Eva means well but doesn’t understand the privacy her parents desire. How could she? In her eyes, Mom should be getting help, exercise, therapy. Only Georges knows – and at one point bluntly tells – Eva that Mom is only going to get progressively worse until she slips away.
Amour is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture; it’s the favorite to win Foreign Language Film. Death is inevitable for us all, and one supposes there’s no ideal way to die. But you can’t help but fear that it’ll be this arduous and painful.
AMOUR (3) • Directed by Michael Haneke • Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert • Rated PG-13 • 127 min. • At Osio Cinemas.