Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are married retired music teachers, living out their golden years in a comfortable apartment in Paris. After attending a piano concert by Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud), one of Anne’s former students, Anne has an attack of some sort where she becomes unresponsive to Georges for several seconds. When she snaps out of it, she has no memory of the incident and believes Georges is playing a trick on her. They visit their doctor and discover Anne has a blocked carotid artery in her neck, reducing blood flow to her brain. Surgery to clear the blockage fails and causes Anne to have a stroke, paralyzing her on the right side. Georges becomes Anne’s primary caregiver, a task he willingly accepts; but Anne believes he resents her needing his constant care, creating tension between the couple. Anne suffers another stroke which further limits her ability to move and causes behavioral changes as well. Anne is bedridden and often hollers out saying she’s in pain. Other times, she speaks in tortured gibberish. Eva (Isabelle Huppert), Georges and Anne’s grown and married daughter, wants her father to put Anne in a facility; but Georges promised Anne he wouldn’t take her back to a hospital, of which she is afraid. A nurse is brought in three days a week to aid Georges with Anne’s care, but the strain is still immense as Anne’s condition continues to deteriorate.
“Amour” is nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Riva and Best Director for filmmaker Michael Haneke. It is also up for the Best Foreign Language award as it is in French with English subtitles. The film has received nearly universal acclaim from critics who call it filmmaking of the highest intelligence and is heartfelt and humane. Apparently, these critics saw a different movie since “Amour” struck me as a rather cold, detached and unemotional experience.
That’s not to say the film is bad. It is just so stark and clinical it feels more like a training film for home care workers than a movie. “Amour” is a brutally honest look at the chronically ill, their spouses who become their caregivers and the effects that situation has on those involved. I expected I’d be in tears at least once during the film. I didn’t even come close to rolling a single drop. Here’s a couple who have been together, I’m guessing, at least 50 years yet there’s not much in the way of emotion or sadness expressed by the husband who must now assume the roles of both nurse and housekeeper. I guess we are given the French cinema version of sadness with him staring into the night as he lays sleepless in bed and a dream sequence where he’s attacked by an arm and hand that seem to be coming from the back of his head. I suppose these two examples are what the audience is supposed to take for introspection by the character as he contemplates what’s to come; but it all struck me as rather incoherent and far too subtle to deliver the kind of feelings one would have in this situation. If this was a Hollywood film, there would be all kinds of manipulative tricks pulled to get your tear ducts opened up. There would be a soaring soundtrack, a great deal of talk between the husband and wife about her being a burden, some sort of conflict with the daughter over the woman’s care that likely would end up in court and the death of the woman just as the court case ends, leading to a reconciliation between father and daughter. My eyes were watering as I typed that previous sentence. “Amour” takes an emotional situation that many of us will face or have faced and wrings all the fear and sadness out of it.
I’ve dealt with these issues as my parents both had lingering illnesses before they passed. It is a draining experience to provide care for someone you love as they approach the end of their life. I wasn’t even the primary caregiver and it felt like every day was worse than the one before. “Amour” has none of the emotion I would expect in a drama of this type.
“Amour” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and brief language. Dealing with a dying spouse is the mature thematic material. We also have a very brief flash of nudity as Anne is bathed by her nurse. There is one instance of foul language and since the film is in French with English subtitles, that word appears on screen. I won’t mention what the disturbing act is it would give away a major plot point but I will say it comes out of nowhere and is disturbing.
While I do not believe Emmanuelle Riva will win the Best Actress Oscar, she is certainly deserving of the nomination. Her portrayal of Anne is both courageous and devastating. I wish the rest of the film had lived up to her performance. While I knew going in the film would be sad and bleak, I expected it to touch me deeply and somehow, despite the subject matter and my personal history, it left me feeling very little. Perhaps I’m not smart or sensitive enough to “get” French cinema; however, this film should have ripped my heart out and it just didn’t.
“Amour” gets two guitars out of five.
Four new films open this week. I’ll see and review one of them but which one is up to you. Vote for one of these selections:
21 and Over—Straight-A college student Jeff Chang has always done what he was supposed to do. But when his two best friends Casey and Miller surprise him with a visit for his 21st birthday, Jeff Chang decides to do everything he wants to do for a change, even though his important medical school interview is early the next morning.
Jack the Giant Slayer—A young farmhand gets swept into the realm of legend when he must defend his land from a seemingly unstoppable force of giant warriors and save a beautiful princess in the process.
The Last Exorcism Part II—Nell begins the difficult process of starting a new life after her exorcism leaves her the last living member of her family. But the evil force that once possessed her is back with other, unimaginably horrific plans that mean her last exorcism was just the beginning.
Phantom—The captain of a Cold War Soviet missile submarine has recently been suffering from seizures that alter his perception of reality. Forced to leave his wife and daughter, he is rushed into a classified mission, where he is haunted by his past and challenged by a rogue KGB group bent on seizing control of the ship’s nuclear missile.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.