Monday, December 17, 2012

A contrarian view of AMOUR -- the Michael Haneke version, rather than the real thing

TrustMovies is flummoxed by the supreme praise being given to a relatively tiresome movie like AMOUR, which appears to me to be Michael Haneke's bid to be "liked" and "acces-sible," after offering us a raft of difficult movies that chal-lenge and sometimes infuriate but rarely bore -- which is exactly what this one does. I admit that I may come to the film with perhaps a bit more first-hand knowledge than do most of us regarding up-close-and-personal contact with heavy-duty aging and deterior-ation -- which is both the theme of and the sad situation in this film.

Over a decade ago my companion and I took into our home his ill and not caring-for-herself-at-all-well mother, who has now lived with us for nearly a dozen years. She moved in at age 87 and is approaching 99. So we know something of the care and feeding -- not to mention diaper changing and the sometimes near-constant asking about what hour or day it is, or the default question whenever I appear on the scene, "How are the children?" (She's referring to my grandkids.) But we're lucky because, despite the age and loss of memory (and sometime mind in general), she still has a sense of humor, a good appetite and disposition, and the ability to -- slowly, haltingly, and with help -- move around.

So I was expecting from this film, the opportunity to see the elderly and how they cope (or don't) from a close-up view and angle which, despite my being in the midst of this at home, I usually don't take the time to fully observe. Instead I got a couple of characters whom we learn damn little about: They're musicians and teachers and evidently pretty good ones. They have a daughter and they (she, at least) have coached a prominent and well-received pianist (they attend one of his concerts toward the beginning of the film).

But of their relationship and their "togetherness" -- which occurs only up front, as a stroke soon renders the wife well on her way to vegetable -- we see and learn next to nothing. "You're a monster" the woman tells her husband, Georges, early on, and from the hold-it-all-in performance of Jean-Louis Trintignant (above) this seems quite believable. For her part, Emmanuelle Riva (below), as Anne, soon stroke- and bed-bound, gets even less to do and say.

Now, you may insist that these are simply very subtle and reticent performances. Well, duh, what else could they be, since Haneke has given his pair a screenplay with so little in it to provide character or event or anything else. Watching these two actors at work here slowly became one of the most tiring efforts of my movie-going year, and I had to pinch myself repeatedly and twice smack my own face to stay awake.

The movie comes to life a bit when that pianist (Alexandre Tharaud) comes to call, and even more so when the couple's daughter, played by the great Isabelle Huppert (above and below, with Trintignant) visits. Even then, the screenplay/dialog is godawful -- dull and tiresome and barely believable. It's as though Haneke decided that this "special" situation was ample, so little else needed to be done.

And then, to top it all off, there's that ridiculous pigeon that is brought into the film -- not once but twice -- and proves perhaps the deal-breaker of the century. This fucking bird, well-trained as it clearly is and perhaps meant to signify... something -- flight, free-dom, the soul, a Chinese delicacy? -- is such a foolish notion and so poorly filmed that it should soon cause your jaw to drop. The pige-on appears to be only interested in the apartment floor, with its beak ever down there scouting and pecking, and so it seems clear that some bread or birdseed must have been scattered to keep it involved -- and then taken away via digital effect so we won't notice. The bird just stays and stays and way outstays its welcome, as we continue to wonder why it keeps pecking that floor. Ah, well -- the old movie-making rule: Stay away from children and wildlife.

That all-purpose title word "love" is a cheat, too, as this movie doesn't come close to giving us the real thing. Rather, the filmmaker, shown at left, offers us sentimentality disguised as a dark and necessary undertaking. Bullshit. Numerous alternatives are available to our Georges, but he's having none of them. He is such a "nothing" character, so withholding, tiresome and constipated that he virtually closes the film down early on. Nonetheless, the movie, its actors and writer/director have already picked up a bevy of awards, and I suspect more may come at "Oscar" time. But I hope not. The senior contingent deserves something better -- to view and to represent it -- than this faux-profound bore-fest. (My god -- I sound like Kyle Smith -- but without the hack politics. Well, chalk it up to my great disappointment in this film. Expectations can be dangerous.)

Amour, from Sony Pictures Classics and running an ungodly 127 minutes, arrives this Wednesday, December 19 in New York (at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Film Forum) and Los Angeles (at Laemmle's newly refurbished Royal Theatre in West L.A.) -- with openings in cities across the country to follow soon.

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