Oscars 2013: Best Picture Nominee – Amour

 

Stephen McNeice professes his love for ‘Amour’ as part of our Oscar 2013 Best Film countdown…

 

 

To say I’m apathetic towards the Oscars is an understatement – sometimes that apathy morphs into straight up hostility. The Academy are generally so wearily specific with the types of films they award that you’d hope they eventually simply doom themselves to irrelevance. After all, what sort of organisation will bestow ‘best actor’ nominations upon decent but unremarkable performances from Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman and Denzel Washington while the genuinely astonishing and profound achievements of Denis Lavant and Jean-Louis Trintignant are shamefully shunned? At least Daniel Day-Lewis and – to a much greater degree – Joaquin Phoenix deserve their nods. Similar arguments can be made for pretty much every category, and yet for so many the Oscars remain a barometer for the best cinema has to offer. In reality, the awards can be maddeningly limited. Doesn’t stop the press and viewers being consumed by the hype year after year.  
 
As ever, a majority of 2012’s most groundbreaking, vital films have seemingly passed the Academy by (that or the distributors couldn’t afford the promotional costs). Perhaps most controversially of all – where the heck was The Master? We can all probably identify our own personal grievous absences and misjudgements, especially as Les Miserables stinks up a ‘valuable’ nomination slot seemingly solely because it’s an extravagant period musical directed by a previous Oscar-winner.
 

Not that the current batch of Best Picture nominations are worthless or anything. There’s actually a lot of pretty to really good films on there, even if they fail to achieve genuine greatness. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Django, Silver Linings… these are all smart and engaging if ultimately suffering from various degrees of imperfection. Also unexpectedly refreshing to see the promising and bold debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild so prominently featured, even if it’s unlikely such an underdog stands a chance against the Hollywood giants and industry veterans (Beasts… is also disgracefully absent from the ‘best original score’ nomination list, but now I’m just being petty).
 
So we’re left with just one genuinely ‘great’  film on the list – Michael Haneke’s devastating relationship study Amour. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the most deserving of both the Best Picture and Best Director awards. It is the work of a true master: a one-of-a-kind auteur who has once again offered cinema fans something truly special. Every single frame of Amour is perfectly considered – Haneke is in absolute control of the images, whether that’s a moment of quiet reflection, a heated argument, a heartbreaking daydream or an unexpected pigeon invasion. It’s a work that’s both highly accessible and worthy of years of critical, academic and audience analysis. It’s also home to two remarkable performances, from Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva (who must win best actress). Amour grabs your attention through its shocking prologue, and doesn’t let go until its conclusion. It is as close to perfection as cinema has to offer. With Amour every single directorial decision is impeccable and singular – there are no missteps, no weak-links, no inconsistencies. It is masterly.  

 

Funnily enough, it might not even be the best or most provocative film that its creator has ever made (that honour, in this writer’s opinion, still belongs to Caché) but when you’re dealing with Michael Haneke masterpieces ranking is an exercise of purest futility. Every film the man makes enriches cinema as a medium. He’s pretty much peerless; a proud candidate for ‘greatest living director’. Amour is another flawless work, and one that is perhaps his most emotionally engaging film yet. In terms of quality, Amour is in a league of its own compared to other nominees. Not only that, but a European film walking away with the highest Academy honour would set a wonderful precedent. The Oscars consistently ignore or actively ghettoise the best international cinema in favour of mainstream American or British cinema, regardless of quality. A victory for Amour would not just see the most deserving film win, but also signify a welcome shift in Academy voting habits. It is not completely outside the realms of possibility – recent years have seen a shake-up in the make-up of the director’s branch of the Academy particularly, with a variety of offbeat and international talents occupying seats once held by more conservative studio types.  
 

Going by the pre-awards hype and buzz, however, it seems incredibly unlikely Amour will walk away with the grand prizes. Indeed, the bizarre and unwarranted controversy that has sprung up around Zero Dark Thirty illustrates just how afraid of rocking the boat the voting establishment seem to be. It’s much more likely the safe and predictable likes of Argo (much more worthy of ideological criticism than ZDK, incidentally, but that’s another argument) or Lincoln will emerge triumphant – solid films in their own right, but par for the course when it comes to award hyperbole. It is likely Amour will instead be an afterthought, almost undoubtedly earning the token Best Foreign Language Film statuette, with perhaps a deserved Best Actress award to boot. Still, even if Haneke’s film doesn’t emerge as the big winner on 24th February, there’s no doubt whatsoever that it is the best film nominated for best film.

Stephen McNeice

 

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Cinema Review: Amour

 

DIR/WRI: Michael Haneke • PRO: Margaret Ménégoz • DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Nadine Muse, Monika Willi • DES: Jean-Vincent Puzos • CAST: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud

Retired music teacher Anne, in her 80s, suffers a stroke. She asks her husband to promise her that she will not return to hospital. Her declining condition tests Georges’ abilities to care for her at home and strains their relationships with their daughter.

In Amour, writer-director Michael Haneke (Caché, The White Ribbon) confronts two universal aspects of the human condition: the inevitability of death and our utter dependence on other human beings to survive. He illustrates this universality in an early scene, in which Georges and Anne sit among a concert audience before a piano recital begins. Haneke shows the whole audience in a long take, effectively suggesting that what unfolds could happen to any couple our gaze falls over in the shot.

Haneke establishes equality in the married couple’s relationship with visual symmetry in a breakfast sequence, framing and cutting between talking heads in a balanced manner. This equilibrium breaks down as Anne, the early stages of a stroke taking hold, fails to respond to Georges. Haneke employs static shots, long takes and very little camera movement throughout the film, representing visually the standstill to which the couple comes Anne’s condition confines her to their apartment, and the film remains in that claustrophobic setting.

Despite the limited setting, Haneke builds a network of tense relationships, developing compelling drama. Anne’s daughter Eva objects to Georges’ persistence in caring for Anne at home. Eva struggles to come to terms with her mother’s increasing inability to understand her daughter’s problems, or even to acknowledge her existence. Alexandre, the concert pianist, visits some months after the performance at the film’s beginning. In a letter, he describes his encounter as a sad and beautiful moment; he fails to realise how he challenges Anne’s dignity. Nurses provide both assistance and problems for Georges and Anne.

Haneke’s minimalist style and perhaps too-controlled direction may not have succeeded if it were not for accomplished performances by an excellent cast. Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Conformist, Three Colours Red) plays Georges with skill: his hand, for example, often caresses Anne’s gently, but anxiously. He recounts Georges’ tales of his youth with sincerity. Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima mon amour, Three Colours Blue) has the more physically challenging role. Stoke paralyzes her character’s right side, then confines her to bed. The film chronicles Anne’s decline with naked frankness, and Riva ably registers Anne’s struggle to maintain her dignity. Watching Anne deal with opening a book, or learning to use her powered wheelchair, are among the film’s more spontaneous and touching moments.

Recurring imagery that surrounds these moments is perhaps symbolic: Georges frequently closes windows; he deals with a pigeon trapped in the apartment; and paintings on the wall depict increasingly bleak landscapes with fewer people.

Haneke’s film dissolves the boundaries between dreams and reality, as Georges struggles to cope. He finds himself waking to a corridor flooded with water, or he sees his wife playing the piano, only to turn off the CD player and realise Anne remains confined to bed. Again, the film’s visuals take on the characteristics of Georges’ experience, veering between the real and imagined.

Winner of the 2012 Palme d’Or at Cannes, Amour may be Haneke’s masterpiece. Featuring outstanding performances by two great French actors, the film marries form with content in an emotionally complex work of compassion.

John Moran

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)

127 mins

Amour is released on 16th November 2012

Amour – Official Website

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IFI French Film Festival 2012: Day 1 – Amour

 

The 13th IFI French Film Festival, 14 – 25 November, IFI, Dublin

This year’s IFI French Film Festival was officially opened last night by H.E Mrs Emmanuelle d’Achon, Ambassador of France, and with the screening and Irish premiere of the ferociously tender film Amour. Michael Haneke’s stunning requiem of love and death made its mark on a packed cinema at the IFI to such an extent that there was a palpable feeing of raw emotion as the film’s credits rose in silence at the end.

The film won the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and stars two legends of French cinema – Emmanuelle Riva (Anne) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (George) – who shared the screen together before in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy – as a retired couple living together who must come to terms with the realities of Anne’s debilitating stroke.

Haneke’s camera fearlessly focuses on the grim realities of suffering and the distressing degenerating nature of Anne’s physical and mental descent. And yet the film never veers towards the sentimental, as it portrays how George copes with the deterioration of his beloved. This is a film of magnificent beauty – of a couple’s bond that intertwines their existences; of a loyalty and a love forged stronger through an agonizing experience.

There are some excruciating scenes. And as always with Haneke there are times we don’t want to look, but we must. And these scenes feed into the sublime moments of tenderness that attests to the film’s ultimate triumph.

What Haneka achieves is to bring together extreme emotions, and from such harrowing tragedy carve ultimate joy.

A beautiful piece of cinema.

 

The IFI French Film Festival 2012 continues today with Camille Rewinds (Camille Redouble) at 18.20, Noémie Lvovsky’s Marty McFly-like comedy of a a 40-year-old boozy divorcee, who one day wakes up in her schooldays of 1985 to be granted  a second chance at life. What’s French for ‘Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?’

Also on offer is You Ain’t Seen Nothin‘ Yet! (Vous n’avez encore rien vu) at 18.30. Now 90, Alain Resnais’ ‘two-in-one’ film is bound to be all things meta. Set Rubik’s Cube to stun.

Steven Galvin

Full details of all the films can be found at www.ifi.ie/FrenchFest

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