Reel Life mini-review: 'Amour'
Michael Haneke's "Amour" is the harrowingly realistic counterpart to every romance that ends with a "they lived happily ever after" cliché.
Haneke's sobering take on real romance is a stark and sentimentality-stripped drama in which true love doesn't turn out happily at all. Nor does the couple in the story live ever-after.
"Amour" opens with cops breaking into the upscale French apartment of retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). They discover her body on a bed in a room ripe with the odor of decomposition.
The story flashes back to several months earlier as we see how happy Georges and Anne are before two strokes paralyze Anne's right side, then slowly deplete her energy, freeze her muscles and place her in a state of constant pain.
In print, this synopsis sounds fairly depressing. Maybe it does, but "Amour" proves to be a profoundly moving and unsettling testament to the film's title, for the true test of love, it turns out, isn't slaying a dragon or saving a damsel in distress. It's the courage and will to stay by your partner through the wedding vow that isn't the "in health" part.
Great French stars Trintignant and Riva give their characters a rare incandescence that instantly invites us to share in their exhaustively detailed daily experiences, even as Anne's condition deteriorates.
Riva's Anne greets her body's slow shutdown with a majestic sense of nobility. Trintignant's Georges, a frail and weakened man, conjures up an inner strength to help his wife through her exercises, to lift her into bed and to encourage her to eat.
Darius Khondji's camera work is a multilayered look at the couple's apartment world, captured in languorous static shots, broken up by infrequent tracking shots and penetrating close-ups.
Isabelle Huppert, star of Haneke's "The Piano Teacher," plays the couple's disturbingly unconcerned daughter. French pianist Alexandre Tharaud plays a charismatic musician who stops in to see his former teachers before leaving on tour.
A crucial element missing from Haneke's daring drama -- at least to American audiences -- is the real true horror of growing old and becoming sick and incapacitated: insufficient medical funds.
By making the couple in "Amour" more than financially independent (Georges has no problem meeting bills or overpaying a nurse's fee), the movie doesn't reflect the 99 percent's general experience with old age and infirmity.
Granted, "Amour" isn't about health care benefits of the elderly in France or any other place. And delving into costs would have distracted from Hanke's tilted, provocative look at what real love entails for the elderly Georges.
Most of Haneke's movies, "Funny Games" and "White Ribbon" for examples, are known for abrupt, unsettling violence, so a story like "Amour" might appear to be an aberration for the German-born filmmaker.
Yet, in its own compassionate way, "Amour" makes a perfect Haneke love story.
"Amour" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago and the Evanston Century 18. Rated PG-13 for language and a "disturbing" scene. In French with subtitles. 127 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★
Naperville Central High School graduate Jim Hemphill (1989) will appear in person this weekend to answer questions after showings of his feature film "The Trouble With the Truth" at Facets Multimedia, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago.
"Truth" stars John Shea and Lea Thompson as a divorced couple who discover love is a many splintered thing. The movie plays Friday, Jan. 11, through Thursday, Jan. 17.
"The biggest challenge on the picture actually came after we made it," Hemphill told me. "Shooting the film was relatively easy as far as independent movies go, because I had an excellent cinematographer and great actors.
"The challenge is trying to get a small, character-driven film released and noticed when you're competing with movies that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and have multimillion-dollar marketing budgets."
Hemphill, who earned his bachelor's degree from Chicago's Columbia College and his master's degree from the University of Southern California, will host showings this Friday through Sunday. Go to facetsmultimedia.org for details or call (773) 281-9075.
'Mindless fodder' sells
As you probably know, "Texas Chainsaw 3-D" made a killing at the box office last weekend, knocking off competitors such as "Django Unchained," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
Variety reporter Andrew Stewart reported this, along with the observation that the biggest demographic flocking to see "Chainsaw Massacre" was young women.
So, I emailed Stewart to confirm that girls, not boys, were driving the box office engine of "Chainsaw."
"Young women have long been the biggest supporter of horror films," he wrote. "I suppose it makes sense if you think about it."
I asked Stewart for his guess on why "Texas Chainsaw 3-D" (not screened for critics, of course) came in No. 1.
"'Chainsaw' likely benefited from being mindless fodder after the holiday glut of more serious awards fare," Stewart wrote.
Mindless fodder? Hey, that means "Gangster Squad" has a shot at No. 1 this weekend, doesn't it?
'Head Games' rolls
The After Hours Film Society presents Chicagoan Steve James' disturbing documentary "Head Games" at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Tivoli Theatre, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. The doc takes a hard look at the immediate and long-terms effects of concussions caused by athletes playing sports.
"Head Games" producer Steve Devick will be there Monday night to talk about the movie, accompanied by soccer player Mary Rounce and her mother Laura Rounce to discuss the firsthand effects of sports-related concussions. General admission costs $9. Go to afterhoursfilmsociety.com.
• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!