Thursday, February 7, 2013

Amour by Michael Hanake

A review on Michael Hanake's "Amour" at Old Age

Michael Hanake’s Amour has been nominated for the Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (at age 85, Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest actress to be nominated for an Academy Award), Best Original Screenplay and Best Director at the 85th Academy Awards. Known for his disturbing yet realistic style, Hanake’s Amour has already won the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The movie received mixed reviews. Some said there was nothing relating to Amour (love) and it was rather a cold, cruel and brutal movie, whereas others interpreted it as a mere act of love. Here is a comprehensive review by Manohla Dargis from the New York Times, if you haven’t seen the movie and would like to know more about the plot. I would like to group my remarks in two categories: cinematographic and content-related.

First of all the fact that the movie is directed by a 70 year old man and its two leading actors are 82 and 85 years old is worthy of appreciation. The beautiful and reserved Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and courteous Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) draw the audience into the elegantly cultured, well-educated and decorated bourgeois world of two retired music teachers. One could assume that a movie filmed in a single set - except from the opening scene the whole movie is filmed in the old couple’s grand apartment in Paris - will be boring, but Hanake’s angles are so well placed that they only make the audience associate and empathize more with the aging couple’s way of living. Another detail that I loved was the little noises that the characters and the apartment radiated when for example Georges and Anne chewed the haricots verts, a typical side dish in France, or when the hardwood floor squeaked as Georges pushed Anne’s wheelchair. Hanake also gave a powerful message on how life at old age rotates around a small dining table in the kitchen of an colossal Parisian apartment. I think that is why the chewing, eating, gulping and moving cutlery sounds conveyed such reassurance because they were also the proof that the couple was still living a “normal” life despite of Anne’s stroke.

As someone who regularly thinks about old age since I’ve been academically and professionally involved in aging for the last four years, I think I was not as much shaken as others by the uncomfortable truth that Amour throws out to your face that we will all die one day and it probably will not be the most pleasant moment of our lives. But the disturbing realization does not stop here. It would, if we all died suddenly without making any inconvenience for ourselves as well as others who care for us. But there is usually a gradual transition from the first moment we realize that the end is coming for our beloveds to the moment when the end really comes. In between two moments a series of feelings pass through our minds: shock, denial, acceptance, struggle, hope, despair, frustration, struggle, despair and relief. Through Georges the audience observed every single of these feelings which in my opinion makes Amour a successful movie. I think Hanake’s education in psychology, drama and philosophy contributed significantly to his success in depicting such powerful but intangible moments of life. The most striking moment for me was when Georges gave up on taking care of his paralyzed wife after he saw that Anne refused to continue living by spitting out the extremely little amount of water that Georges physically forced her to drink.  

There are other powerful scenes about the relationship between Eva, the couple’s only daughter and Georges and Anne in the movie. Eva (Isabelle Huppert) lives in London, has a husband who cheats on her and two grown-up children who live their own life. The audience senses that Eva does not know much about her own children. Eva and her husband are also having financial difficulties. This part about the self-centered daughter was not that original for me because it’s been a common theme. However, the surprise visit that Eva makes to her father who she knows is already trying hard to take care of his paralyzed wife, made me ask myself the following question: who has the right in the family to decide about a loved one’s caregiving, the spouse or the children? Considering that Georges is the one who lives with Anne all the time and witnesses her indignity and hears her cries of pain, it seems logical that he should decide what to do. On the other hand, just because Eva is far and cannot be there with her mom, does she deserve to be left out from the decision-making of her mom’s constantly worsening condition? Doesn’t she want the best for her mom too? To sooth his daughter’s worry about Georges not being reasonable and responsible enough to put Anne in a nursing home where she’ll be better taken care of, Georges says to Eva something like “ I love your mother as much as you do and I promised that I won’t put her back in the hospital or in a nursing home. What they do in the hospital can be done here at home. I won’t break my promise.” Eva then accuses her father of being cold and indifferent. It is so true that people get accustomed even to worst conditions and normalize them. For Georges who lives with Anne 24/7, Anne’s condition is normal, a natural consequence of the stroke, whereas for Eva who comes to visit them once in a while, Anne’s condition is unbearable and something has to be done. The discussions that the father and daughter have makes the audience leave the apartment for a moment and see the situation from afar.

I went to see the movie at 11:05 am and the theatre was full of old people. I wanted to ask how they felt watching the movie but I did not feel comfortable doing it. I would love to hear remarks from older persons.  

By Duygu Basaran Sahin

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