What better time to see a movie called "Amour" than Valentine's Day weekend? It's also the Best Picture nominee you're least likely to have seen, and the Oscar ceremony is just a week away.
"Amour" is up for five statuettes, almost all in top categories. This came as a huge surprise, even to fans of director Michael Haneke. It's a foreign film, after all, completely subtitled, and such films are usually limited to competition in the Best Foreign-Language Film category.
The Academy gets things right once in a while. "Amour" is indeed something special and very much worth the effort it takes to see it. It's not the subtitles that present the main difficulty. It's that this masterpiece about the end of life -- but not the end of love -- is so real and heartbreaking, it's difficult to watch as the film moves towards its inextricable end.
"I'm here, having my breakfast, and you're telling me things I don't understand," Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) says with some irritation to her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Georges isn't irritated -- just terrified. For a period of a few minutes, though it like felt like hours, Anne blanked out, not responding to any of Georges' inquiries. Worse, when she finally came to, she didn't know she'd lost touch. They soon learn that Anne is very sick, an illness that culminates in a stroke.
|4 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva|
|Director: Michael Haneke|
|Rating: PG-13 (mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and brief language)|
|Running time: 127 minutes|
Anne makes Georges promise never to take her to a hospital or a home. It's a promise that will be extracted at great cost to Georges, as his wife deteriorates. He's in his 80s himself; it's not easy for him to be sole caregiver. We don't hear Georges sappily telling his wife how much he loves her before she goes, but we don't need to. Haneke is a master at communicating much with little. "Amour" might be his most subtle film yet.
The most surprising thing about "Amour" isn't the ending, or that the couple finds it difficult to stay calm in the face of death, or that they never lose their love for one another. It's how two people can live together for half a century and still have things to discover about each other.
Anne eventually all but loses the will to live. She was a musician whose pupils went on to great international careers, an elegant, intelligent woman. That's where the biggest battle lies. Georges refuses to let Anne die, even if that's her greatest wish. "It's beautiful," one says to the other at one point. What is? Life. "So long," one comments. It's not a farewell to life, it's a comment on its length. Sometimes it seems half a century together isn't enough. But sometimes it seems we've taken all we can from the world and must finally let it go.
Trintignant and Riva are veterans of French cinema. It feels a bit like they've been preparing for this film their entire lives. At 84, Riva is the oldest woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. There's much life left in both of these talents.