Arts & Events

Amour: A Film to Die For
Opens at the Albany Twin Theater on January 18

By Gar Smith
Friday January 18, 2013 - 01:21:00 PM
Director Haneke and stars Riva and Trintignant
Director Haneke and stars Riva and Trintignant

Nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, Austrian director Michael Haneke's Amour, features a trio of French acting royalty in a stunning, intimate portrayal of the grandeur (and drudgery) of devotion, when an aging couple is forced to square off with the demands of mortality. Jean Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert embody the close-knit and cultured octogenarian couple Georges, and Anne and their distant musician daughter. Trintignant (81) has acted in more than 100 films (including A Man and a Woman). Riva (85) has appeared in more than 40 movies (beginning with a starring role in Hiroshima Mon Amour). Huppert has more than 70 films to her credit. Together they represent nearly 150 years of cinematic chops. 

For all the films that have celebrated life-and-death challenges, there are only a few that have dared focus one of life's most significant events -- the long, slow process of dying. The truth is, no matter how we tend to avert our gaze and change the subject, the only thing more normal than life is death. 

Haneke brought his own personal experience to this film and anyone who has participated in caring for a loved one who has chosen to die at home will be on familiar grounds here. For everyone else, Amour offers essential life-lessons. 

The drama begins almost incidentally during a regular morning breakfast with small talk and boiled eggs. The conversation unrolls predictably until, strangely, Anne seems to skip a beat. The audience notices this before Georges. Initially mystified, then worried, Georges discovers Anne has suffered a stroke. 

Anne, who fears hospitals, initially rejects the diagnosis. When the operation fails to return things to "normal," Georges and Anne must deal with another normality -- the inevitability of physical and mental decline. 

Georges is a steadfast marvel of compassion and caring, except for one moment of reflexive frustration that comes as such a shock the director has to rush in and apply a visual Band-Aid –- a long, silent montage of serene, oil-painted landscapes that helps provide a soothing, reassuring balm. 

Trintignant is awesome in the role of the husband compelled to become a crutch, a nurse and a bed-changer. Riva is extraordinary as she tracks the decline of a once vivacious and self-reliant woman forced to suffer an increasing load of disabling indignities. Ultimately, a second stroke leaves Anne's body half-paralyzed and Riva's physicalization of Anne's increasingly diminished state -- and her labored attempts to maintain her dignity -- is astoundingly realized. This is acting for the ages. 

Amour is a slow and steady experience of lingering shots and ambient sound -- studied and measured. So the story's second act of violence comes as a surprise. But viewers will be tested -- was this an act of mortal frustration or a supreme act of love? 

The answer may be found in two marvelous scenes were Georges executes a spontaneous pas de deux with a resolutely intrusive pigeon that invades the sanctity of the apartment. The pigeon is in good hands with Georges. This is a man of consummate gentility. 

May Georges and Anne remain together, forever, in our hearts.