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Nominated for Best Picture at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Director(Michael Haneke) at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Actress(Emmanuelle Riva) at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Original Screenplay(Michael Haneke) at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Annual Academy Awards

Even if I don’t ultimately decide that Emmanuelle Riva gives the Best Actress performance of the year for Michael Haneke’s devastating “Amour”, it sure would be nice to see her take home the Oscar. Let me clarify—I am not an advocate of Academy Awards being given out for lifetime achievement. “Best Actress” should be given to the woman deemed to have given the finest perf of the year. But let’s say you can’t decide between 22 year-old Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” and Ms. Riva for “Amour”—who will celebrate her 86th birthday on Oscar Sunday. Who are you going to vote for? Is it necessary to even flip a coin? I mean, who’s almost definitely going to get another shot at the gold, and which one most likely never will again(I hope Emmanuelle lives to 120, but let’s be realistic here)? Ms. Riva would get my support in a heartbeat—and I’m on record as being highly impressed with Ms. Lawrence’s work in “Silver Linings Playbook”. But if it’s even a little bit close, you’ve gotta go with the still beautiful star of 1959’s Alain Resnais classic, “Hiroshima, mon amour”. Emmanuelle was 32 back then, when she lost for her BAFTA-nominated performance. She’s up for the BAFTA again this year, and she is now the oldest ever to be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award. What a shame if she doesn’t walk off with at least one of those. It would cap an outstanding career. And what of the equally wonderful, but mostly unsung(for this, anyway), 82-year-old Jean-Louis Trintigtant? Almost 47 years removed from his starring role in 1966’s international smash “A Man and a Woman”(Best Foreign Language Film winner at the 39th Annual Academy Awards), Jean-Louis and Ms. Riva create a married couple so beautifully, subtly and intricately entwined, that you’ll ponder how one of the delicately acted roles could’ve worked sans the other. Bravo to the Oscars for bestowing 5 major nominations upon the outstanding “Amour”. However, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Trintignant’s name has been left off of the ballot. Jean-Louis and Eva are the movie couple of the year.

Anne(Ms. Riva) and Georges(Mr. Trintignant) are retired music teachers living in a Paris apartment. Both are in their eighties and somewhat frail, but still enjoying life together and attending various events after decades of marriage. One morning at breakfast, Anne briefly has a spell of catatonia, and a concerned Georges accuses her of joking around after she snaps out of her short trance. Anne is bewildered by what he speaks of—she remembers nothing of the event. Turns out, Anne needs surgery to repair a blocked artery. The procedure fails, and she is mostly confined to a wheelchair after suffering a minor stroke. Anne, still quite lucid at this point, makes Georges promise not to send her either to a home or to perish in a hospital—and also expresses a desire to end her life. But when Anne has a spirited conversation at home with a visiting former student, Georges manages to look past her distress for a time. And then Anne suffers a more debilitating second stroke, and Georges is forced to employ a nurse a few days a week. Soon, their daughter Eva(the marvelous star of Mr. Haneke’s 2001 film, “The Piano Teacher”, Isabelle Huppert)arrives to visit, and urges her father to send her mother to a care facility. But Georges plans on keeping his promise to his mentally and physically deteriorating spouse. Anne eventually gets bad enough for Georges to hire a second nurse. We are soon shown that nurse roughly and disrespectfully treating Anne, and despite his exhaustion, a furious Georges fires her. Anne is mostly incoherent by this time, and it seems likely that her condition will only worsen while dragging on indefinitely.

I fear that a portion of the mainstream audience will walk into “Amour” in the attempt to view all 9 Best Picture Oscar nominees, and be completely unprepared for what they are about to see, and totally unaccustomed to someone who works in the exacting style of the brilliant Mr. Haneke. This is a work that demands patience from its audience, and it’s difficult for me to imagine lovers of, oh let’s say, “Silver Linings Playbook” for example, having the willingness to endure the bleakness of “Amour”. And that’s a shame. I wish I could report that there were no walk-outs at the showing I attended. Most movie-goers who mainly frequent broadly appealing films should probably sit this one out. But oh, the excellence they’ll be deprived of concerning the level of skill employed here on the acting, writing and directing fronts. I was introduced over a decade ago to the oeuvre of Michael Haneke by my wife’s cousin, who teaches film at a local university. Hooked almost immediately, I never turned back. In fact, I’m familiar enough with Haneke’s work at this stage, that I was totally prepared for his “shock” moment. It seems every film of his has a scene that leaps out of the quiet to stir the audience to an audible gasp. Count me among the startled during a key moment while viewing Haneke’s 2005 release “Cache”(quite possible my favorite of his, if “Amour” doesn’t surpass it upon reflection). The entire crowd appeared to jump during that one. I was on guard this time—I guess I can count myself among the initiated now(not sure if that counts as a failing on Haneke’s part, or an overfamiliarity on mine!). But don’t confuse Michael Haneke with somebody who simply employs cheap parlor tricks—his work is always a demanding look at the horrors of reality that many often refuse to acknowledge. He doesn’t go easy, folks. So, if escapism is what you seek—move it along, nothing to see here. But if you crave a serious-minded plunge into authenticity, from a great Austrian director, utilizing two of France’s most accomplished stars, in a French-language film that has received universal critical accolades—look no further than the masterful “Amour”. It certainly appears to have a lock on the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and it’s one of the finest examples of cinema that I’ve experienced in the past year.    Grade:  A


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