Thursday, February 14, 2013

Amour, or How a tender-hearted story gets refracted through Haneke's cruel lens

Written and Directed by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant & Isabelle Huppert.

Oscar Nominations: 5
Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Director (Michael Haneke) & Best Picture.

Despite the movie's title, I'd be hard-pressed to argue that "love" is indeed what is at the heart of this clinical dissection of the toils of aging seen through a Parisian couple. That is not to say that the couple at the center of the film (played heartbreakingly by Riva and Tritingnant) do not love one another. On the contrary, it is George's love for Anne which leads him to take care of her as she unravels into a near-vegetative state. Yet, at Haneke's hand, the film feels like a surgical look into the heart; cutting, exacting, accurate yet all too lethal (both to its characters and viewers). Love, the film argues, is not as glamorous as one imagines, but it is both painfully mundane and mundanely painful. It comes as no surprise that Haneke's touch thankfully doesn't let his two-hander fall into treacly territory. The first half hour is intent on establishing a sense of routine before the onset of the inevitable downward spiral that arrives alongside Anne's multiple strokes. The film is admirable in that it doesn't create in Anne a victim or a saint -- one of my favorite scenes in the film has to do with a former piano student of hers visiting, where she's forced to confront his dull condescension, only to be followed by a dispiriting realization of how she's being perceived.

Anne's disintegration is hard to watch, especially given Riva's presence which imbues her with a tender fragility that frustrates rather than ingratiates her to her husband and ourselves. The claustrophobia and complacency of the stolid Parisian apartment serves the film well as it unravels into its third act with a rather ambiguous denouement. The final moments of the film -- epitomizing the film as a whole -- vacillate between the sentimentality the set-up implies and the cruelty which Haneke infuses into his mise-en-scene, leaving us aghast and astray once the end credits roll. A

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