Editor’s note: This is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Tyler of Southern Vision
I have no idea where to begin. No idea what to say. No idea how to say anything. Nearly two years ago now, I saw Michael Haneke’s film Cache and from the moment it started, I was spellbound. Hooked on Haneke. I gradually began to seek out more of his work until I had seen every feature. The Seventh Continent, Code Unknown, Cache and The White Ribbon garnered perfect ratings. His other films I also hold in very high regard.
Then along came Amour. It didn’t come from nowhere. I knew Haneke was working on it for a while, and I followed its progress eagerly. Finally it had its premiere at Cannes, and was met with enormous critical praise and immediate whispers of award accolades for Haneke. Sure enough, Amour took out the Palme D’Or, the festival’s top prize, and although I hadn’t seen the film, I cheered from my place at the bottom right corner of this world.
Now finally, after moping and sighing and desperately lusting after this film, I managed to see it. You know that feeling you get when a film you had the highest possible expectations for manages stunningly to exceed those expectations? Well such was my experience with Amour.
Let’s start with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. I had encountered Trintignant previously in two absolutely masterful films, The Conformist and Three Colours: Red. The latter saw him giving a career-best performance. Riva I was familiar with from Alain Resnais’ beautiful dreamy love story Hiroshima mon Amour. Here they are aged and withered and acting as strongly as ever. Trintignant is excellent as the cultured, melancholy-but-not-bitter Georges, who must deal with his wife’s increasingly disastrous sickness gracefully but realistically. And Riva… holy hell, what an actress. It is not easy to act paralysed on one side, to act as if all the sense in your brain is slowly draining, all the life seeping listlessly out of you, but Riva does so brilliantly. In early scenes there is a look of vague helplessness in her eyes that soon transitions into pain, agony and whimpering sadness. Riva doesn’t so much act her part as live it. I imagine the families of sufferers of her character’s condition will find her performance hauntingly realistic, and incredibly difficult to watch.
Another star of the film, albeit a more subtle one, is Darius Khondji. If you didn’t know who he was, you should now. No, he is not an actor, but a cinematographer, one of the most skilled cinematographers whose work in cinema I’ve observed. This is his best work at shooting a movie since David Fincher’s Se7en. Michael Haneke’s famous “cold stare” may be the most famous aspect of the camerawork in his films, but Khondji, in his second time working with Haneke, inhabits the frame just the same as the director. They work conjunctively in shooting this film in the most appropriate manner I believe possible. Khondji’s work shines, yet it doesn’t take away at all or make it any less apparent that this is a Haneke film.
The man’s direction is flawless. As smooth and edgy, soft and abrasive as ever. With each film he makes, the camera seems to move a bit more, but in the case of Amour, they are only subtle, gentle movements. Haneke guides his film slowly, leisurely, not rushing a single detail and letting each precise aspect of his heartbreaking story unfold perfectly, each puzzle piece, as it were, falling into place.
But arguably, the area in which the film succeeds the most is its emotional impact. Amour packs a hell of a punch. There really is no polite way of expressing how brutal this movie really is, though it’s on a wholly different level to what one might expect from Haneke from past experience. There is – almost – no sudden violence or startling activity in this film. Everything unfolds quietly, neatly, and the brutality of the movie is in its subtext, in the weight of the pain in Riva’s eyes and the despair in Trintignant’s facial expressions. In the understated, perfect writing; the gentle but powerful cinematography and the caring, understanding, empathetic but jolting, hammering realistic attitude of Haneke.
Michael Haneke is one of cinema’s greatest artists. With each new film he evolves, branches out his style in different ways, examines and sometimes mercilessly rips away at important aspects of our social environment today. Amour is his most personal piece, and perhaps his quietest one. Though for a while he was intrigued, even enthralled by examining our social relations in the openness of the outdoor world, here he has settled for something simpler, a beautiful piece about amour between a husband and wife whose connection is in turmoil, a film as brutal and unforgiving as it is moving and profound.
Tags: Amour, Best Picture, LAMB Devours The Oscars, Southern Vision: A Blog About Movies