Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Directed by: Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”)
Written by: Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon”)
Easily one of the most heart-wrenching cinematic experiences of the last decade, the foreign drama “Amour” also comes with its rewards if you are a serious art-house moviegoer. While the film’s main focus is the slow and painful death of an 80-year-old former music teacher, Austrian director/writer Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon,” “Cache”) brings to the forefront the relationship between two characters that will make you reconsider your own priorities. It’s an extremely affecting insight into the thought process of a man who would do anything for the woman he’s loved his entire life.
In “Amour,” Haneke introduces us to Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), a married couple in their 80s who have both retired as music educators and are now enjoying their twilight years together in their quaint Paris apartment. Their daily routines are evident. The two operate as one and as succinctly as the inner-workings of a complex clock. Who knows what would happen if one of the cogs stopped rotating?
But when Anne has a stroke – and then another – Georges is faced with the realization that the life he and his wife once shared will never be the same. Now, Georges is playing another role in his marriage he has never played before: caretaker. It might not be something that anyone plans for, but Georges does his best to be accommodating. He understands Anne needs him more than ever, but with his advanced age and the pressures of having to attend to someone 24/7, no one can really blame Georges when the grief sets in deep. He knows the end is near.
Haneke’s gentle way of conducting the issues at hand are natural and poetic. The film, which is Oscar-nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture (along with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Haneke), is a devastatingly sad one to witness. There are moments during “Amour” that are so isolated and sorrowful it’s almost as if you’re incarcerated yourself in this quiet apartment with Georges and Anne. As the oldest Best Actress Oscar nominee in cinematic history, Riva is astounding. While most of her performance is delivered without much dialogue, especially as her character’s health continues to decline, Rivas anchors the film in a way that is empathetic and honest.
Never does “Amour” lose its footing and take the easy, melodramatic way out. Like its characters, there is a consistent grace and modesty about it that makes it all the more genuine. It’s a contribution Haneke, even after all the success he’s had during his 15-year feature film career, should be remembered for.
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Nicolas Duvauchelle
Directed by: Claire Denis (“35 Shots of Rum”)
Written by: Claire Denis (“35 Shots of Rum”) and Marie N’Diaye (debut)
Dressed in a light pink frock and standing on a dusty road in an unnamed African country, Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert), the central character in the French art-house film “White Material,” appears spellbound by the changes happening in a world she once thought of as her home.
Maria, who lives with her family on their failing coffee plantation, is Caucasian with reddish-blonde hair and blue eyes. Despite her desire to blend in with her surroundings, her presence is obvious. With rebel soldiers pitted against the government militia in a civil war, the country has become increasingly dangerous for anyone to stay. Maria’s fighting spirit, however, refuses to leave even after her entire workforce abandons the crop.
“Coffee’s coffee; not worth dying for,” her foreman says before packing up his belongings and joining the mass exodus. For Maria, it’s not that easy.
Like most of her past work, French filmmaker Claire Denis, who was actually raised in a French-colonized Africa, is minimal in her delivery and focused more on the picturesque imagery and details of the landscape than she is on the finer points of the sometimes vague narrative.
Only a hint of a secondary storyline featuring a rebel hero known as The Boxer (Isaach De Bankolé) who is hiding at Maria’s plantation is shared before it’s forgotten (a metaphor for Maria’s own ambiguous political position?). Maria’s apathetic son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), too, is briefly plucked from his comfort zone before his character is engulfed by the turmoil without much explanation.
While Denis avoids concrete answers in her allegorical work, the consistently despairing tone throughout the picture is remarkable, as is Huppert’s understated and absorbing performance as a woman lost in deep-seated denial and facing an inevitable end. The hopelessness is heavy in “White Material.” Maria’s strength is unmistakable, but it would be a tough task for anyone to carry the load alone.