Movie recommendation: Amour

Yesterday I saw the new (2012) French-language movie “Amour,” and urge you to see it.  But be warned that it’s a gritty and realistic portrayal of the end of life. That is the hard part to take, especially because the life is that of a lively woman (Anne Laurent, played by Emmanuelle Riva)—half of a loving French couple who have been together, teaching and enjoying music, for many years. One day Anne has a stroke, and everything changes. Her husband, the equally skilled actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, runs a gamut of emotions as Anne slowly declines: we see his love and solicitude for his wife, his frustration at their inability to communicate, his sadness for what is being lost, and, ultimately, his anger that he must care for a person whom he no longer knows.  There is mystery at the end, and I won’t divulge what happens, but if you love terrific acting, and can tolerate an unsparing portrait of death at old age, this is the movie for you.  Isabelle Huppert, wonderful as always, plays the daughter.

My nephew, whose master’s thesis in film was on how old people are portrayed in movie, says that this may be the best movie of 2012. It’s certainly the best I’ve seen, with Lincoln in second place.  Because people don’t like to face the prospect of getting old, they don’t like seeing physical decline on the screen, and I’ve seen only three movies about aging that I thought were great (this one, Tokyo Story, and Make Way for Tomorrow). I watched this film at the local student moviehouse (Doc Films); and Sunday matinees, particularly those with “serious” films, often attract older viewers. At least three of them walked out during this movie, perhaps because it reminded them (as it did me) of our mortality.

Amour, I found out later, cleaned up the film awards. As Wikipedia notes:

The film was screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or. It won the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards, and was nominated in four other categories: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke) and Best Director (Michael Haneke). At the age of 85, Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest nominee for the Best Actress in a Leading Role.

At the 25th European Film Awards, it was nominated in six categories, winning in four, including Best Film and Best Director. At the 47th National Society of Film Critics Awards it won the awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress.At the 66th British Academy Film Awards it was nominated in four categories, winning for Best Leading Actress and Best Film Not in the English Language. Emmanuelle Riva became the oldest person to win a BAFTA.At the 38th César Awards it was nominated in ten categories, winning in five, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.

Riva’s performance is brilliant. The movie got a 93% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and, of course, four stars from the now-late Roger Ebert. As a memorial to Ebert, who was facing his own end-of-life issues when he saw this film, I quote a bit of his review of Amour:

Old age isn’t for sissies, and neither is this film. Trintignant and Riva courageously take on these roles, which strip aside all the glamor of their long careers (he starred in “A Man and a Woman,” she most famously in “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”). Their beauty has faded, but it glows from within. It accepts unflinchingly the realities of age, failure and the disintegration of the ego.

Yes, and to watch “Amour” invites us — another audience — to accept them, too. When I saw “Hiroshima, Mon Amor” (1959), I was young and eager and excited to be attending one of the first French art films I’d ever seen. It helped teach me what it was, and who I was. Now I see that the film, its actors and its meaning have all been carried on, and that the firemen are going to come looking for all of us one of these days, sooner or later. [JAC: the fireman find Anne’s body].

This is now. We are filled with optimism and expectation. Why would we want to see such a film, however brilliantly it has been made? I think it’s because a film like “Amour” has a lesson for us that only the cinema can teach: the cinema, with its heedless ability to leap across time and transcend lives and dramatize what it means to be a member of humankind’s eternal audience.

I give this movie two thumbs up, and recommend it highly.

17 Comments

  1. Frank Patrick
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Another on-the-surface-depressing film along the same lines that impressed me was “Away from Her” – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0491747/ – about the impact of Alzheimer’s, largely from the viewpoint of the caregiver husband.

    • whiskyjack1
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

      I was going to recommend Away from Her as well, but you beat me to it. Touching, sad, and a luminous Julie Christie…

  2. Gordon Hill
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    …and Quartet.

  3. James Walker
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I saw it last week (as a “first date” movie – maybe that’s why there wasn’t a second date) and agree. It’s a powerful, well-made, well-acted film. Having just lost my father last year after four years of a similar decline, I have a better understanding of what my mother, who never uttered a word of complaint, had to go through.

  4. harrylime
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Truly a masterpiece.

    To the roster of awards received I humbly submit four Golden Steves – for best picture, director, actress and foreign language film.

    And to the list of great films on aging I’d like to add Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. Those four in tandem expose works like Cocoon and The Bucket List for the bloodless evasions they are.

  5. Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m a big fan of the director, Michael Haneke, and am very much looking forward to Amour. And glad to see the mention of Make Way for Tomorrow, one of the greats. Poignant.

  6. michaelbdowd
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the review, Jerry. Connie and I have been been meaning to watch this. Now we will.

    Best,

    ~ Michael

  7. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to save this for when I’m in just the right mood (not too good a mood as to have the good mood dashed & not too bad a mood as to have the bad mood worsened). It looks like something I should see but it is so hard to watch something like this & I’ve avoided others’ recommendations to view it.

  8. Sheila B
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Also recommend “Wit” with Emma Thompson

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wit_%28film%29

  9. Posted April 15, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    If you liked that you should also watch The Sea Inside, which is the realistic portrayal of the fight to die with dignity. Javier Bardem stars and does an amazing job at it.

  10. Cliff Melick
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, just wondering how it can be the “best I’ve seen, second to Lincoln”? Wouldn’t that make it the 2nd best you’ve seen? Jus’ sayin’.

  11. kelskye
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to have to take a break from “Jerry’s picks” for a while, I’m still recovering from watching Ikiru.

  12. ouigui
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Aww, I miss Doc Films from my grad student days! They always had such an eclectic series. Nothing like that here at Big State U.

  13. Dominic
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    I think I would watch it but would not choose to see it, merely because I feel as if I have lived it. My father had a stroke on Christmas Day of all days, & once he was in hospital (almost 4 months) it became obvious my mother had a form of dementia that meant she could not cope alone. (In the end it turned out to be Parkinson’s Disease)… He died within a year, she lived another 15 months after him.

    “Life is short, filled with stuff” as the Cramps sang!

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

      Yes: Make sure you fill it with stuff. Good stuff.

      The old saws are spot-on: Memento mori; seize the day.

      As I always tell people (I’m sure to their annoyance): This ain’t no rehearsal.

      I like Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Last Night of the World”:

      If this were the last night of the world
      What would I do?
      What would I do that was different
      Unless it was champagne with you?

  14. JBlilie
    Posted April 16, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks very much. I really enjoy your movie posts. Please keep them up. I am always interested in what your nephew has to say on the subject. He seems a fascinating fellow.


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