REVIEW: Amour Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva. Directed by Michael Haneke. R13.
Old age is a time of life often ignored in movies - and by people generally. For the young it's far far away, disregarded as if it will never happen to them; the middle-aged are too preoccupied with children, jobs, getting on or just getting by to pay it much attention; and the elderly might find it something they'd rather not dwell on, certainly not go to a movie that reminds them of what they might all too soon confront.
Old age is frailty and infirmity, perceived obsolescence and possibly becoming a burden to loved ones. The end is truly nigh, ready or not. It can be a time of adapting and coping - and learning to accept, as hope shrinks and the shadow of mortality envelops, the inevitable. If you're lucky, you face it with a loved one or family support - and not alone.
Not many movies are made about being old. Not only is the subject matter arguably going to be, if honestly portrayed, sad, even depressing, but who is going to want to pay to see such a movie?
Which makes Amour - an Oscar-nominated French-language film about an elderly couple facing the dying of the light with its challenges, difficulties and physical-mental deterioration - such a brave movie to make. That it is also tender and touching, as well as sombre and sincere, makes it even more remarkable.
It's hard to think of another movie that has dared to focus on this time in life with such honesty and poignancy. Too often films about the aged try to paint a rosy, cheerful or sentimental portrait - old people making the most of life while they can. Movies like Cocoon, On Golden Pond or the more recent The Bext Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet.
The movies that perhaps come closest to Amour are Away from Her (2006) and Iris (2001), which both concerned a husband having to cope with his wife having Alzheimer's disease.
In Amour Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are both in their 80s when Anne suffers a debilitating stroke that leaves her paralysed on her right side, requiring Georges, who has promised Anne not to put her back in hospital care, to look after her at home, even as her condition worsens.
What the film becomes is a testament to the movie's title: this is about the ultimate expression, no matter how emotionally painful and onerous, of love - caring for a loved one at life's end.
Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke's story traces the confusion and fears, hopes and despair, agonies and loss of dignity with which retired music teachers Anne and Georges have to contend while their only child, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), a concert musician, occasionally visits with her concerns.
It is an intimate, unflinching, detached and melancholic chronicle, directed with an unsentimental austerity that slowly sucks the oxygen out of the Paris apartment where Georges and Anne live.
Occasionally, time seems to stand still as Haneke examines paintings on the walls, or spends what feels like an inordinate amount of time in scenes, such as Georges trying to capture an errant pigeon that has flown through a window into the apartment's foyer.
With Haneke mostly being a fly-on-the-wall recorder - there is a dream scene and a metaphorical departure at the end - and the film only having the apartment's rooms for setting, much of the narrative burden falls on Trintignant and Riva, two French movie stars whose careers extend back to the late 1950s.
Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour), 86, earned an Oscar best actress nomination, thoroughly deserved for her performance as a woman who suffers a restricting stroke, then becomes further immobilised, bed-ridden and reduced to total dependency, with speech garbled.
Trintignant (A Man and a Woman, Z, The Conformist), 82, deserved equal Oscar recognition, but didn't get it, for playing a man devoted to his wife, willing to make stoic sacrifices needed to care for her and comfort her in her suffering.
Amour won the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival and Oscar nominations for best picture, best director and best original screenplay, while winning best foreign language film. Just rewards for a movie about the strongest bond between people in life.
Note: Amour becomes another film which suffers from poor visual quality in the State's Cinema 7, the DVD projection dulling the already muted cinematography.
- © Fairfax NZ News