Sunday, October 17, 2021


 You know how people say Schindler's List is a hard movie, but a necessary movie? A film people need to see, even though it's tough to sit through?

Yeah. Like that.

The subject matter couldn't be more different between the two masterpieces, and yet they share a...gravity. You don't watch either movie for the lolz. In reviews of both works you'll find words like "unflinching" and "powerful". One is a deeply human distillation of hope amidst terrifying inhumanity you pray to your god you'll never experience; the other is a profoundly human treatise on love in the middle of the terror that waits for us all.

I had to watch a movie for one of my French classes. Most of my classmates chose comedies. Comedy is a hit and miss genre for me since so much of it exploits people's pain, which I do not, can not, find funny. If I'm going to watch something in which people suffer -- and contrary to popular belief, I don't shy away from that -- I only ask that the suffering be treated...honestly. Not played for laughs, all. That's my issue with the more bloodthirsty horror flicks: the tone of them often strikes me as playful, gratuitous, cartoonish,  and that disgusts me.

Amour won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013. It was nominated for FIVE Oscars -- Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Haneke), Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film (it won the latter). My Google-fu is failing me, but I don't think any other non-English movie has scored so many nominations. At least until Parasite.

Riva, in particular, should have won. I say that before checking who did (Jennifer Lawrence). No disrespect to Jennifer, she's one of my favourite actresses, but watching Riva play Anne Laurent, you forget you're reading subtitles. You forget you're watching a movie. You forget this is an actress at all. This is your mother, your grandma. Eventually, this could well be you. 

Anne and her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant, himself a legend of French cinema turning in a capstone of a performance)  are in their eighties. Both piano teachers, they live a sedate life in a Paris flat. One morning, Anne suffers a stroke at the breakfast table, freezing in front of her husband, only coming around as he's about to go for help.  She has surgery to repair a partially blocked carotid, but something goes wrong and she's confined to a wheelchair. She makes Georges promise not to take her back to the hospital or put her in a home, and so he becomes her caretaker. She has a second stroke, becomes demented and incapable of speech, and Georges soldiers on, eventually breaking down and hiring nurses. There is friction between Georges and their daughter, Eva, who can't understand why Georges won't put Anne in care.  

I won't spoil what comes next. Suffice it to say that in its way, this is one of the most gripping cinematic experiences I have ever had. Of course, part of it was because my stepdad was caring for my mother in much the same way at the time, but I don't think the personal connection is at all necessary to be utterly transfixed by the performances and the steadily mounting dread. 

Typical of European films, this movie takes its time to unspool, with a paucity of dialogue (in French, with English subs) and camerawork that forces you to pay attention. Its silences, its juxtaposition of warmth and coldness, love and death, all of it pulls you in and...changes you, in the manner only the best art can. 

I can not stress enough that this is not an easy movie to watch. You will cry, if you are at all human. But I can also promise you than if you watch Amour, you will never, ever forget it. 

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