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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AMOUR

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Selection

Austrian director Michael Hanake's Amour won the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and it's a touching and rather harrowing look at what old age brings and what love costs.  It is definitely not an easy film to watch and no viewer will leave the theater happy.  However, it is realistic and many viewers will relate to incidents in their own lives with their elderly parents or other relatives.

The primary characters are Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva).  The couple is in their eighties and long married, with one daughter, played by Isabelle Huppert.

Both Georges and Anne are retired music teachers living in a spacious and beautiful apartment in Paris.  We see them initially at a concert where one of Anne's former pupils is the guest pianist.  Once home we glimpse a look at the intimate side of their lives - their private jokes and rituals.

Life is good and they are enjoying their retirement until one morning at breakfast when Anne suffers a series of small strokes that result in paralysis down the right side of her body and both physical and mental decline, as dementia sets in.

Georges, her devoted husband, hires, private nurses to care for her but eventually he himself becomes her caregiver, changing her diaper, bathing and feeding her.  He also isolates her, locking her in her bedroom and sparring verbally with their visiting daughter to keep her out of the bedroom.

Georges' love for Anne and his devotion to her slowly but surely destroys him as she deteriorates.   Played by two acting great legends of the French cinema, the characters come alive and are totally believable as is their situation.

Trintignant excels, although we have come to expect extraordinary performances from him throughout his career.  However, it is Riva, who as Anne clings to her dignity as each setback robs her a little more, who delivers the most astonishing performance.  Not that well known on this side of the Atlantic, Riva, at 85, mesmerizes the viewer and delivers an Oscar worthy performance.

It is impossible to remain dry-eyed throughout this film.  The emotions tug at the heartstrings and jog the personal memories of the viewers and their relationships with elderly family members.

Opening with a powerful foreword, the audience already knows the outcome of the film, but that knowledge doesn't lessen the intensity.  The film itself is made up of a series of flashbacks during which we see Georges and Anne during better times, after the strokes occur, and what follows after that.

Hanake has captured the fear of death  and our own mortality in a sensitive and caring manner.  We see that aging is uncompromising, regardless of education, affluence or social standing.  , Without the use of special effects, elaborate costumes or a large cast, Amour gets its message across in a direct and understated way and it sticks with you when you leave the theater.