Friday, March 15, 2013

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: “Amour” (2012) Review

Love means never having to say you’re sorry…for smothering your wife of 60 years to death with a pillow, apparently. 

According to Roger Ebert, Michael Haneke’s “Amour” -- this year’s winner for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars and recipient of the prestigious Palme d’or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival -- is, and I quote, an “uplifting” movie.

Keep in mind, this is a motion picture that BEGINS with Parisian firefighters uncovering a week-old, rotting old lady corpse in a palatial apartment. As in, within the first five minutes of the film, we’re watching guys pinching their noses, coughing up a storm and looking at flies buzz over the corpse of the film’s lead actress. Over the next two hours, there’s hardly a moment in the movie that gets more upbeat than that; if old Rog considers this film “heartening,” he probably considers “Combat Shock” and “Zero Day” to be similarly enchanting movie going experiences.

It’s not so much that “Amour” is a bad movie -- it most certainly isn’t, in any regard -- as it is the fact the film has been totally mis-marketed. I went into the theater expecting the heartfelt, sensitive tearjerker to end all tearjerkers, and walking out, I felt like I had just ambled out of the classiest “Friday the 13th” movie ever. NOBODY in the theater, it seemed, knew how to process the last half hour of this movie. Despite what you might hear on the Internet, rest assured; thematically and spiritually, this film has more in common with “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” than “Beaches” or “Terms of Endearment.”

First things first: the film is exquisitely acted, by two people that I’m not cultured enough to know who they are, exactly. The names “Jean-Louis Trintignant” and “Emmanuelle Riva” may mean something to hardcore French film snobs, but to most U.S. audiences, they may as well be random people pulled out of the early bird special at Denny’s. Thankfully, we got a random sampling of geezers that can guldarn act, and these two put on double-thespian performance the likes of which is rarely seen in movies these days; if absolutely nothing else, you need to see “Amour” for the incredible acting clinic these two put on for the first hour and a half of the flick.

Similarly, I’ve got nary a qualm about the directorial stylings of Mr. Haneke, a one-time transgressive-degenerate-cinema-post-mod-Euro-Trash auteur turned walking awards statuette magnet; the great thing here is, even though “Amour” may SEEM light years away from something like “Funny Games” or “Benny’s Video,” his latest flick is probably every bit as disturbing as the two extreme cinema world classics he’ll always be celebrated for. Heck, “Amour” is probably a more distressing motion picture than Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” and the plot in that one was anchored heavily around child abuse subplots and bird stabbings. You know, this Haneke fellow REALLY seems to have a thing for birds, don’t he?

As far as the plot for “Amour” goes, it’s really about as spoiler-proof as a movie can get. Trintignant and Riva play an elderly couple living out their golden years in a fairly spacey Parisian flat; they get visits from their 40-something year old daughter, and they see former piano students perform recitals. And then, one morning, Riva has a stroke while eating breakfast, and from there? It’s a slippery slope to euthanasia town, with Emmanuelle becoming partially paralyzed following a botched surgery.

Seeing as how the cast consists primarily of octogenarians, I guess it goes without saying that not a whole lot of “stuff” happens throughout the film. For the most part, Riva remains either bed ridden or kinda’ frozen in place for the duration of the film, while Trintignant mostly paces back and forth in his apartment, having furtive smokes, telling bitchy nurses off and trying to throw blankets on pigeons that fly into his foyer. If action is a pre-requisite for your movie-going experiences then, yeah, you might wanna’ plan on catching another flick.

The play between Trintignant and Riva really carry the movie, even if the plot hits a lot of slowdown from time to time. I suppose there’s only so much drama you can cull from purchasing a Posturepedic mattress and changing pee-pee soaked bed sheets, but a lot of times, it feels as if the two are simply reliving the same “discussions” over and over. Of course, it’s to good effect later on in the film, when Trintignant finally loses it and starts slapping his wife around ‘cause she won’t drink Evian water, but there’s no denying that you’ve got to be a patient viewer to really feel the film’s final “payoff.”

Which brings us to the film’s final 30 minutes, or as it will be formally addressed for the remainder of the article, “the point when, holy shit, did this movie jump off the rails or what?”

It’s not so much the fact that Trintignant “kills” his wife (or, “relieves of her of her insufferable pain,” depending on your stance regarding “right-to-die” politics) as it is how freaking sudden it is during the flick. He’s just hanging out in the bedroom, telling her about writing letters to his mother during summer camp and then, out of the bluest blue you’ve ever seen, he grabs a pillow and sends her to the great (Bed, Bath, and) beyond. The final half hour of the flick may have had some poignant moments, with Trintignant writing letters to his deceased wife and envisioning her spirit washing the dishes, but I -- and virtually everybody else in the cinema -- were just shell shocked for the remainder of the picture. When the film finally concluded, there weren’t any sniffles going on at the multiplex where I screened the flick; instead, a bunch of (mostly) middle-aged pseudo-intellectuals just kinda’ sat there, numbed like a pair of ass-cheeks that had been sitting on a rollercoaster all day. The greatest moment in human history occurred shortly thereafter, when a Ted Turner look-and-sound-alike in the seat in front of me stood up and said “Shit, I prolly’ woulda’ enjoyed that Arnold Shwartz-a-neggar movie more than I did this” as the end credits began to scroll.

It’s not that “Amour” isn’t an enjoyable movie -- it very much is, and it probably deserved the Oscar for best foreign flick -- but good lord, that finale. I’m not necessarily saying that it renders the first three parts of the movie moot, but it’s certainly going to dilute the ever-loving hell out of them for you once the screen fades to black.

You might go into the film expecting a sensitive, life-affirming tear-jerker about the inevitability of aging and the moral crises of dealing with a disabled loved one. Oh, you’ll get that stuff, all right…and then, the filmmakers decide to cram a cushion down your throat hole.

And, that my friends, is “amore.”


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