People who have been following Oscar season have been wondering about a French film called Amour, which won the Palme D'Or at Cannes last year. It's been declared Best Foreign Film by movie critics and the Golden Globes, and even got a Best Film nod from the National Society of Film Critics.
A lot of people would know how good this movie is...except it's only been shown in a literal handful of cities across the country. Recently, the film has finally arrived in several cities, including Sacramento this past Friday.
Amour has earned its spot in Best Picture, Director and Actor in the upcoming Academy Awards with a great cast and story. It's about Georges ( Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), two retired music teachers who have lived very well together in Paris. You may think it's a story about keeping love alive as you grow older.
It is, but not in the way you think.
It starts with the fire department breaking into someone's home for a welfare check. They find a woman laid out in her bed, dead.
Then we see Georges and Anne enjoying the piano recital of a former pupil. The next morning, they're having breakfast, when Anne suddenly stops. She doesn't respond to Georges at all. He's about to get help when she suddenly "wakes up" but doesn't remember what happened. We later find out she had a stroke, and gets an operation. However, it doesn't solve the problem, and we see this couple face the health problem that will affect their future...and probably lead to the start of the film.
Director Michael Haneke (who also directed The White Ribbon, and won at Cannes for it) tells this story naturally. While Anne says that she'll be fine and recover from this, it's always followed by a scene where Georges has to help her get off the toilet, or into her wheelchair. We get worried about what may happen if and when she gets worse.
The biggest praise, though, should be given to Riva. To say that she is fearless about showing how Anne's health declines after her stroke is putting it mildly. She tries her best to let her husband know she'll be fine soon enough, and yet her body fails her. That first attack where she suddenly stops, her attempts to walk and talk all over again, and her face when Georges tries to feed her: those are images that you won't forget. I read in another review that this movie should be considered a "horror" movie. Well, if you call the prospect of being too old to care for yourself "horror", I'll agree with that. It's also an inevitable fact of life.
Trintignant is also wonderful as Georges. This is a loyal husband who will do whatever it takes to help Anne recover. It's also tragic when he meets his breaking point. Isabelle Huppert is also great as their daughter, Eva, who seems to be more concerned about what's really to her parents. She'd prefer Anne be sent to a hospice, but Georges will not hear of it. That decision will have consequences.
Riva's performance has earned her a spot in Best Actress at the Academy Awards. While she's gotten a lot of praise, it may not be enough to overcome Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. In the past, Oscars have honored actors in foreign-language films if they do something very different. Remember Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose? Seeing her as a very old Edith Piaf got a lot of votes, and the award. Riva would get a lot of attention in any other year, and we should honor her for how far she went to show us the real effects of a stroke. It still looks like Chastain and Lawrence will be the front-runners.
Amour, though, will leave the Dolby Theater with Best Foreign Language film, without a doubt.
Amour is currently playing at the Tower Theater in Sacramento