Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke may be the most divisive director of the last decade. But his latest film, Amour, which recently received four Oscar nominations including both Best Foreign Film and Best Picture, leaves audiences floored. It's a great movie that no one suspected the devilish, at times sadistic, Haneke would or could ever make.
Though Haneke's made lyrical, beautiful films about disturbing subjects, like The White Ribbon, he often seems to just want to disturb. Funny Games, in both its original German language version and American remake with Naomi Watts, seemed to relish pushing violence not only in audiences faces but down their throats. It was a repugnant exercise in sadism that gave this writer nightmares for some time. (Some might say that it was, then, an artistic success.)
Thus out of left field comes the exceptionally crafted Amour. It stars two legends of French cinema - Jean-Louis Trintignant (Z, The Conformist, A Man and a Woman et. al.) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima Mon Amour) - as a well-to-do married couple, Georges and Anne, who are seemingly content in their golden years. But they wake up one morning and, over the first cup of coffee, discover something strange and ominous that will from that day forward reshape their lives.
It starts like how a hurricane starts with one raindrop. Anne freezes up and goes mute and catatonic for a couple minutes yet seems to bounce back unaware, knowing nothing about where she went or that she disappeared at all. As her health deteriorates in excruciating detail, Georges is first left to his own devices - their daughter (Isabelle Huppert, the French Meryl Streep) offers only shrugs or histrionics - then dependent on dutiful strangers whose presence is intrusive but necessary.
If not for Haneke's deft and surprisingly empathetic direction and the seamlessly honest and compassionate performances of Trintignant and Riva (who is justifiably nominated for Best Actress), Amour might be too sad to endure. In its way, it's a horror movie about the monster everyone eventually has to face. But it's mesmerizing for all those aforementioned qualities: deftness, surprise, seamlessness, empathy, honesty and compassion.
Amour | 2:07 | Dir. Michael Heneke | Click here for theater showtimes