Sony // 2012 // 127 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 14th, 2013
"It will go steadily downhill for a while, and then it will be over."
The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, and one of the most honored films of 2012, makes its Blu-ray debut.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignat, Z) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva, Three Colors: Blue) are retired music teachers. Although in their 80s, they enjoy a pleasant life with activities that include attending concerts and films.
One day, Anne suffers a seizure -- she just seems to go blank, and while Georges gets ready to go for help, she comes back, as if nothing happened.
Anne has an operation to relieve a blocked artery, but what should cure her instead makes her worse -- she is one of the few who experiences failure of this particular procedure.
Now, Anne is partially paralyzed, and Georges has become her caregiver.
And neither wants to live like this.
As the title suggests, Amour is a love story, but far from a romantic lark. It's actually a terrifying film about long-term devotion and the devastating effects of illness.
While the film is ultimately sad and disturbing, Haneke doesn't trade on sentiment; everything here, from the script to the direction to the performances, is clear-eyed, almost clinical. There are several long passages that are either silent or that feature banal chatter; what there is not is a single moment where an emotion is cued by music. In fact, virtually all the music in the film is classical -- Schubert, Beethoven, Bach -- and even that is used sparingly. There are few moments in which characters talk in depth about either the past or what is happening now, making those few times when they do all the more powerful.
It's also what makes the film occasionally difficult to sit through: Haneke's insistence on not making an emotionally manipulative film at times creates an emotionally remote one. It's a story of passion told dispassionately. We feel for the characters thanks to the depth of the performances and of course, the despairing situation, though Haneke often gives us little to go on as far as actually knowing these people.
But we can see that they are both people of dignity and independence, and Anne's condition robs them of both. Georges hires nurses to help lighten his load, firing one who strikes him as condescending. Neighbors help run errands, their kind eyes and well-intended endearments stinging of pity. When Georges finally decides to lock out the rest of the world, it sadly makes sense.
Amour would never have worked without superlative performances, and Haneke gets those in spades. Riva is heartbreaking as the increasingly frail Anne. What makes her decline even more difficult to witness is seeing how spry and agile Riva is in her "healthy" scenes; if I didn't know she was in her 80s, I would have assumed she was a younger actress playing old. While Riva won the lion's share of critical kudos -- including an Oscar nomination, recognition from several U.S. critics groups, as well as a number of awards in Europe -- Trintignat's performance is just as good; really, he's the film's emotional center. Both performances are indelible. Isabelle Huppert (Heaven's Gate) is excellent as Georges and Anne's concerned daughter.
Amour (Blu-ray) from Sony sports an overall high-quality 1080p transfer. Virtually the entire film takes place in Georges and Anne's low-lit apartment, so the picture already has a muted quality, but the image is clear and reasonably sharp. The DTS-HD surround track is quite good as well, picking up all-important ambient sounds and offering a clear representation of the dialogue.
Supplement-wise, Sony gives us a "making of," Love Scenes, and a Q&A with Haneke at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, moderated by film critic Elvis Mitchell. Both these supplements are fine and offer solid background on the production and process of making Amour. The film's trailer rounds out the set.
As I mentioned above, Amour was one of the most honored films of 2012, winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, several Best Foreign Film awards, and Best Picture of the Year from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. It is also one of the few foreign language films to receive and Oscar nomination for Best Picture (along with a Best Director nomination for Haneke).
The film is a masterpiece that's at once moving and beautiful, as well as defiantly hard-edged; a must-see.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13