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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The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon

DIR/WRI: Michael Haneke • PRO: Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Ménégoz, Andrea Occhipinti • DOP: Christian Berger • ED: Monika Willi • DES: Christoph Kanter • CAST: Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Ursina Lardi

There are films throughout the history of cinema which occupy the most upper of echelons and whose names are greeted by exuberant, unashamed nods and noises of approval. Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now and Pulp Fiction are three such films and while The White Ribbon may not command the same respect just yet, it has already accomplished the first step, which is to win the Cannes Film Festival’s highest commendation, the Palme d’Or. Michael Haneke’s film beat high-profile opposition such as Antichrist and Inglourious Basterds and, in my humble opinion, rightly so.

The story unfolds in a small rural village in Germany in 1917, prior to the outbreak of the First World War, where a series of suspicious mishaps throw an otherwise peaceful community into turmoil. The action is narrated by the schoolteacher (Christian Friedel) because the blame for the sudden increase in misfortune appears to be attributed to the school children whose Aryan features and blank faces are reminiscent of the delightful offspring of Village of the Damned. The cast is comprised of unknowns but is consistently strong across the board. The children are particularly noteworthy and each excels when separated from the group in the many indoor family scenes.

The White Ribbon offers no easy answers for the questions it raises. It is a parable that, due to Haneke’s writing credit and German ancestry, appears to be an insight into his own efforts to understand the role played by Germany in two world wars. The village of the film does not play an active role in the build-up to WWI but can be viewed as a microcosm of Germany at that time. While the children are afforded distinguishing names, the adults are credited by their positions in the village: The Baron, The Midwife, The Pastor, etc. It is a study of the mentality of German society before WWI as well as the psyche of the children who would later go to war in WWII. Haneke instils qualities in his characters that are enlightening with the benefit of retrospective. Characters are imbued with traits familiar to the long history of Nazis on-screen, but what elevates The White Ribbon above other similar films is the portrayal of the other side of the village. For each character that exudes malice or malevolence, there is a wholesome character that displays selflessness or generosity.

The White Ribbon’s potency is not confined to the story. As engaging as the events of the small village are, they are exceeded by the visual beauty of the film. The black and white imagery of the film adds to the 1917 setting but more importantly draws the audience in to the duality of the story. The White Ribbon is a riveting dissection of a community at war with itself within a country on the brink of a world war.

Peter White
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
The White Ribbon
is released 13th Nov 2009

The White Ribbon – Official Website

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Funny Games U.S.

Funny Games U.S
Funny Games U.S

DIR/WRI: Michael Haneke • PRO: Christian Baute, Andro Steinborn, Chris Coen, Hamish McAlpine • DOP: Darius Khondji • DES: Kevin Thompson • CAST: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart

Funny Games U.S. is Austrian director Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot American remake of his 1996 film of the same title, in which a middle-class family are terrorised in their holiday home by two effete, creepy young men (played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), who occasionally break the fourth wall for Brechtian asides intended to point out that we’re watching people suffering for our entertainment. It’s an interesting choice for a remake of one of his own films, because Hollywood produces just the kind of films that presumably inspired this one, thus making an American version more on-target. The fact that the title acknowledges its remake status at least shows a commendable honesty.

The film itself is extremely well-made. There’s a gradual tension built up largely through slow, wide shots, seemingly mundane actions (with the occasional rather obvious planting of set-ups – though these are subverted somewhat later on), and eerie performances. There’s also some fine acting from Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart, which almost justifies the remake.

There’s very little onscreen violence, but lots of tension (who knew the Nokia theme could sound chilling?), and pain, which is harder to endure than good old no-consequences blockbuster violence. It’s all bathed in a milky white light (at least during the daytime), both through art direction and lighting. This has several effects – one is to make it look more European, another is presumably stylistic, representing a cleanness that will be sullied, and of course, it’s unsettling, and untypical of American movies of this type. There’s a stillness that brings a feeling of menace from the very beginning.

The original film polarised critics when it came out. Possibly it was hated for offering little in the way of hope (and in places explicitly denying the audience hope), or because at times you get the feeling the director is judging the audience for watching his film. It has points to make about screen violence, but whether it succeeds in making those points is open to debate. It would be interesting to see how fans of torture porn would take to this movie, but they may not get a chance to see it, as it’s likely to be showing mostly to art-house crowds.

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