[Screen It]


(2012) (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva) (PG-13)

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Drama: An older couple must contend with the ramifications of the wife's worsening health after a number of strokes make her increasingly dependent on him.
Georges (JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT) and Anne Laurent (EMMANUELLE RIVA) are a French couple who've been married for many years. Not long after returning from a piano concert held by Alexandre (ALEXANDRE THARAUD), one of her former students, Anne has an episode of not responding in any way to Georges. It's then revealed that she's had a stroke, a condition that eventually leaves her paralyzed on her right side and increasingly dependent on him. Their adult daughter, Eva (ISABELLE HUPPERT), is concerned about her mom and questions whether her father should care for her at home, a sentiment shared by others.

Being private people, and with Anne not wanting to return to the hospital, Georges agrees to keep her at home and take care of her, assisted by nurses and such who routinely visit. But as her condition progressively worsens, she no longer wants to be a burden on him, all while he wonders how much worse these conditions will get and whether he can continue with this course of action.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
It's the thing everybody in the world ends up doing, but few want to think about or prepare for, let alone discuss with others. Yet, it's often on the minds of most everyone on various occasions, especially those who've seen the passing of one day, week, month and year after another until they've piled up into a collective blur.

No, I'm not referring to taxes, but rather something that goes hand-in-hand with that in a popular saying about what's guaranteed in life. Yes, I'm referring to death, something no human or other living creature on Earth has managed to escape. While I still believe that science will eventually get around to "curing" natural death sometime in the future (accidents will still happen), those of us here and now better get ready because one day -- maybe tomorrow, hopefully more like years or decades -- the Grim Reaper will come knocking and he doesn't take no for an answer.

I don't mean to sound depressing, but it is something very real we must all face, and the more days one puts on their life's odometer, the closer the inevitable will come. For the older couple in "Amour" (French for "love"), that has become their constant reality. Long married and with an adult daughter (Isabelle Huppert), Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) live in a spacious apartment in France, occasionally going out for the evening such as to enjoy a concert by a former student turned professional pianist (Alexandre Tharaud).

But those days of going anywhere but to the doctor or hospital are now pretty much gone due to a stroke she's suffered. She tries to get by despite the massive impact that's had on her both physically and mentally, but the long and slow slide downhill eventually sucks away most of their joy of life as they wait for the inevitable. The same pretty much holds true for anyone willing to put themselves through this well-made but slow, deliberate and downer of a film from the fingers and eyes of writer/director Michael Haneke ("The White Ribbon," "Funny Games").

It certainly doesn't help that the beginning of the film starts off near the end where police enter the apartment to find Anne's body, nicely clothed and holding a small arrangement of flowers, but dead long enough to have everyone covering their noses and mouths. While that set-up in another film might have viewers wondering who she is and what happened to her, Haneke pretty much clears the slate of any such mystery as her condition if quickly presented and then we just sit and wait until we return to the end from the beginning.

I completely get what the filmmaker is going for here in terms of making the viewer experience the long, boring, frustrating, scary and depressing wait for death, right alongside the fictional couple doing the same up on the screen. Many of his shots are long and steady, as the characters go about their lives that -- as Georges describes late in the film to his daughter -- are still routine until they end.

As is the case in real life, she questions the wisdom of her father's approach at caring for his ailing wife, at home, with him also old and probably not up for the task mentally and especially physically. Like many an older couple, they want to go through this process in private, without the butting in or judgment of others. And thus we watch and wait, just as they do, with the wife eventually sliding into near complete disability, speaking gibberish and moaning from real and/or imagined pain.

The performances from the leads are top-notch, and the film has been garnering all sorts of award nominations and wins, including this year's Palme d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival. Even so, I really wouldn't wish this film on anyone, especially if they've had a loved one go through something similar, and I certainly have no intention of ever watching it again (as I'm not some sort of cinematic masochist). Art house aficionados will probably "like" it, but due to its subject matter, tone and deliberate pacing, it will never break out from that crowd into the mainstream.

That said, and as a testament to its power and performances contained within, I can't shake the film. Perhaps that's due to it hitting too close to home and doing so in a far too realistic manner to dismiss as just a piece of easily dismissed fiction. If anything, maybe it will get people thinking and planning more for their own mortality and that of their loved ones. No, that's not exactly an entertaining or enjoyable prospect, but it's certainly something all of us must and will eventually have to address. "Amour" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 4, 2013 / Posted January 11, 2013

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