With Amour, filmmaker Michael Haneke cements himself as the Master of Ordinary Horror. No Michael Myers. No paranormal activity. No elaborate contraptions of humans sewn together. Just humans being humans. Haneke terrorizes audiences with the horror of the human condition, shot with simple yet assured cinematography. Nested in the plain, repetitive existence of French and German bourgeois lifestyles, the Haneke horror machine churns out monsters of human boredom, guilt, consumption of violence, repressed desire and aging. Thus, no matter the settings of contemporary French and German bourgeois families, Haneke’s films feature direct, austere portraits of seriously scary real life issues that resonate with (although not always reaching) wide audiences. In fact, the writer-director recently told Deadline, “Absolutely Amour is a story that can take place anywhere in the Western world.”
The Palme d’Or-winning film has been deemed a masterpiece by innumerable critics. It has also been cited as “the most brutal movie of the year, maybe ever”. (Gawker) No torture in this film, however. At least, no explicit torture.
Haneke pairs two prized French actors as the central couple of Amour. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, retired music teachers in their eighties. They’ve just attended a piano recital of one of Anne’s pupils and Georges tells Anne how beautiful she is that night. The next morning, Anne turns catatonic during breakfast. It’s an unsettling symptom that Anne’s husband tries to ignore. But Anne’s health swiftly declines. She soon suffers a stroke. She requires constant care and attention. Georges aims for the role of dutiful husband.
Amour is 127 minutes. 120 of those minutes is, put simply, suffering on display. The intimate portrayal of paralyzing (often cruel) life events is no departure for Haneke. His debut 1989 film, The Seventh Continent was introduced to me as a film where I would “need days to recover”. The apt remark most likely applies to Amour‘s moviegoers as well. Haneke’s portrait of aging and dying is of course, uncompromising.
The departure with Amour, however, is two-fold: Haneke’s portrayal of the dynamics between humans and animals and the writer-director’s examination of an undying romantic love. In fact, using “Haneke” and “undying romantic love” in the same sentence seems to go against some kind of law. But there it is on the big screen: a Haneke film centering around the sweetness and tenderness between two people. Not to mention, Haneke also shows compassion and even desperate tenderness toward pigeons. In past Haneke productions, the animal scenes are brutal.
The lessons in Amour stand in a background of frankness concerning a partner’s role when his loved one is simply disappearing before his eyes. Issues of death, old age, paralysis, humiliation and lost of selfhood are all raised, surely. The somber subject matter’s effects on audience members is evident: the line to the women’s restroom is undoubtedly the most tearful line I’ve ever waited in. But Amour is also an exploration of the darkside of loving someone. What does “loving” someone look like when your wife is falling apart?
Fortunately for filmgoers, Amour‘s nightmare script is performed by two titans of the acting world. Jean-Louis Trintignant’s gait in the film even elevates his performance. The complex role of exhausted, mournful and devoted pragmatist is met by Trintignant’s rendition of Georges. His performance is just as memorable as Emmanuelle Riva’s. Riva turns 86 on Oscar night and is nominated for Best Actress. Some critics call her the dark horse of the race. I call her the actress who deserves the honor. For, a simple comparison of types of characters the Best Actress nominees had to play reveals that Amour‘s Anne is the most rich on a performance level. The nominees include actresses portraying a persistent, investigative CIA agent, a 6 year old child being herself, Garden State’s Sam who dances with Bradley Cooper, a mother versus a tsunami, and a woman on her deathbed. Although crude summaries of the roles deemed Best Actress-worthy by the Academy Awards, playing a dying subject (especially when portrayed in Haneke’s light) ranks in the very top of most complicated role to play as an actor. Haneke’s Anne is an actress’ award-winning role just as the case with Aronofsky’s Nina in Black Swan and Mrs. Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream (the correct answer to 2001’s Best Actress race, won by Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich). Point being: a woman in her decline is the stuff Oscars are made of.
Amour is up for five Academy Awards: Best Foreign Film, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture. It will take home Best Foreign Film, hopefully Best Actress and ideally Best Original Screenplay. Haneke has made masterpiece after masterpiece and zero blockbusters. His filmmaking spans over two decades. It’s time for his Academy Award and with Amour, his most mature film to date, that time is next Sunday, February 24th. Also, it’s time Hollywood called Haneke to direct blockbusters with the potential for artful profundity à la the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. #teamhaneke
Chani envisions a Hollywood where Daniel Day-Lewis or Michael Fassbender star as Ludwig Wittgenstein in a film based on Ray Monk’s biography, The Duty of Genius. Paul Thomas Anderson directs. Her Hollywood also casts Ezra Miller in Søren Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer. Anne Hathaway stars in Gaspar Noé’s next production. HBO debuts a travel show starring Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Tommy Wiseau as Tommy Wiseau. And Michael Haneke directs a sequel to The Seventh Continent. In 3D.
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