Watching Amour at the New York Film Festival is perhaps the greatest experience I’ve ever had in a movie theater over the course of this year. Amour has received a great deal of praise, winning the Cannes Film Festival back at May. Director Michael Haneke has gotten much acclaim over the years, and Amour has been declared as his crowning achievement.
And it is a modern day masterpiece which has deserved every little bit of its praise. I don’t like throwing that word “masterpiece” around too often but I think calling Amour anything below would be considered an insult. It’s brilliant in almost every way imaginable and is a perfect example of filmmaking at its best.
Like three of the best films of last year, The Tree of Life, A Separation, and The Descendants, Amour is a family drama. It’s about an aging French couple, George and Anne Laurent (legendary French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva respectively), two former musicians who currently live in an apartment in Paris.
There life soon turn ugly as Anne, all of the sudden, gets a stroke that leaves her half paralyzed on her right side. George is left to take care of her and the movie tests his love for Anne as her health deteriorates both physically and mentally. At the same time George has to deal with his overbearing daughter and other issues that come up in his life.
Amour actually struck me on a personal note. My own grandmother, in fact, had Parkinson’s disease and her condition was very similar to Anne’s. I could really connect to the pain George felt for Anne, and I think many audiences can as well with their own sick relatives.
One thing notable about the movie is that 99% of it takes place in George’s apartment. This really gives you a feel inside these characters. We get a sense of what is happening in George’s and Anne’s lives and what’s going on.
Another important thing I noticed was the style of the story. Most movies about sickness pretty much have the characters talk about that. Amour, on the other hand, doesn’t. Much of the talking in the film isn’t about Anne’s condition but what happens afterward. In many scenes we see George talking to Anne about entirely different things, like music or current events. Yet when we watch this, we can see the sadness and pain in George’s eyes, the emotion he expresses. Amour makes you cry not because of the dialogue but the feelings and emotions it expresses.
There are many things that make Amour as great as it is and one of the biggest is the acting. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give tremendous performances that are really quite astonishing. Both of them are on screen for the entire movie and their presence fits entirely well. In a question and answer with Michael Haneke after the movie (I’ll talk more about that later), he mentioned how he originally created the story with these two actors in mind, and I couldn’t really think of anyone else who could take their places. Riva makes Anne’s illness look believable. She doesn’t overact the part and fills what seems like an impossible role for many actors. Trintignant is amazing. The way how he expresses emotions in his eyes, his facial expresses from his wrinkles to his frown, is acting at its best.
Michael Haneke deserves much praise for Amour. I’m embarrassed to admit this is the only film I’ve seen from him and after watching this I’ll be seeing much more. Haneke wrote and directed the movie and gives it its pacing and style.
I noticed that many of the shots in Amour, particularly for monologues and conversations, are pretty long. I can’t think of any other director who would keep a shot that still for such a duration. Yet it is completely suitable for Amour and really allows ourselves to be acquainted with the characters.
Haneke’s use of recurrent themes in the movie also is fantastic. Music represents a major part of both George’s and Anne’s lives not just because they were former piano teachers. There are a few sequences in Amour which are imagined by George, and the impact they have is extraordinary.
Now after the movie, Haneke actually came out and discussed the movie (he had someone help translate it). He discussed the film’s symbolism, how he structured it, how he casted it, and other things. I was lucky enough to get an autograph from him (you can see it below).
Amour is a great film, perhaps the best of the year. I highly recommend that you watch it in theaters, though I don’t think many would probably play it. It is a masterpiece that will make you laugh and cry. By the end I was in more tears than I was in Beasts of the Southern Wild. By the end of the film, the entire audience applauded wildly, with many giving the film a standing ovation. It is a classic that surely will be regarded with great status in years to come.