The nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film
The film: Octogenarians Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who have lived together happily as husband and wife for many years working as now retired music teachers, still live a quiet life together in their Paris apartment. One morning after attending the performance of a famous pianist who was once a pupil of Anne’s, Anne seems to go comatose at breakfast, not being able to respond to Georges at all. He leaves the kitchen to call the doctor and when he returns he finds her eating breakfast as if nothing had happened, having no memory of the episode. Georges gets angry at her, thinking she is trying to play a joke; Anne becomes offended at the suggestion and thinks Georges is going crazy.
Anne does eventually visit a doctor who finds a blocked carotid artery and must operate on it. The surgery, though successful in fixing the blockage, goes partially wrong leaving Anne partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Incredibly stubborn Anne makes Georges promise that whatever happens he will never make her go back to the hospital or live in a nursing home. She tells Georges she doesn’t want to be made to live this way, which disturbs him. Anne starts to get curious and worried visitors, like the famous former pupil from the concert and their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), but is able to carry on full conversations sitting in her wheelchair with no difficulty, so Georges dismisses her comment.
Eventually Anne suffers a stroke, which only complicates her condition. Despite his own hardships as an aging man, he continues to diligently and lovingly look after her. He does hire a nurse to help him with the work while Eva insists she be taken into professional medical care, though Georges adamantly refuses for Anne. Soon Anne can only manage to speak few if any words and is unable to move at all on her own, so Georges hires a second nurse. When Anne starts babbling the word “Hurt!” repeatedly when being cared for by the new nurse, Georges fires her without a second thought. Georges struggles with the thought of being without his beloved wife, her condition distancing them greatly already, with her stubbornness as a brief though only true link to the woman she used to be. Georges, with only these glimpses of his wife and their memories together, knows what she would want him to do though he’s still uncertain whether his love for her means keeping her alive or releasing her from pain and letting her die.
The odds: Michael Haneke’s Amour was the winner of the coveted Palme d’Or award at the ultra high-brow Cannes Film Festival this past year and, as per the expanded Best Picture category that is being reveled and enjoyed, is continuing the trend of Palme d’Or winners edging into the competition like last years existential think-piece The Tree of Life. For all the betting people out there, the chance of any other film winning Best Foreign Film over Amour is so minute it not even worth thinking about but in the other categories its nominated in it adds such an interesting dynamic. For those unfamiliar with Haneke’s other films, a director with a reputation as a provocateur might not initially seem capable of a story so simple and touching. With films like the disturbingly sadistic Funny Games (both English and German versions are from Haneke) or the prickly Caché (Hidden) it would be justifiable to make such a judgment…though you’d be wrong. Perhaps Haneke’s greatest fascination as a filmmaker is how people act when no one else is watching as to study the character that is the true nature of a person. Whereas the previously mentioned works are investigations into the horrible darkness the soul is capable of and the brutality it inspires in either the deranged willing or weak minded, Amour is a strong and touching portrait of the feats love is able to overcome such as age, sickness, and the inevitability of death. And at the center of it, there’s Emmanuelle Riva. As the oldest actor to be nominated for an Oscar, Riva is a definite dark horse against the highly favored Jennifer Lawrence for her portrayal of a wife and mother as she slowly and painfully loses the battle with her declining health. After winning the BAFTA she gets a leg up with the indecisive voters while fans of this film have an immovable love and a no-questions vote in her favor. As deeply sympathetic and beautiful as Amour is, it loses steam as the film, which is already gloomy enough because of the subject matter, waxes more and more morose. I loved this movie for its gravity…but not for its graveness. Personal mood has a lot of weight with this movie: watch in a good humor and you’ll love it, watch it in a bad humor and you’ll probably hate it if not for how much sadder its apt to make you then for having to read the French dialogue in all-too-fast-moving subtitles.