Like the brat who screamed that the Emperor is naked, here I stand (in a crowded theater, no less!) to testify that director Michael Haneke's best picture nominee, Amour, has been massively overpraised despite its artfulness, sobriety and courage. It is, in short, a tale of old age and death told in shades of gray and black, and is utterly depressing, downlifting and without dramatic contour. It is serious work, and seriously tedious and severe.
And, of course, it's up for a bunch of Oscars, because heathen Americans feel obliged to honor anything foreign and portentous, mistaking grave subject matter and sustained lugubriousness for achieved artistic purpose. Far be it from me to go against critics worldwide, who have already bestowed big laurels on Haneke's film, it's just that such praise echoes a dearth of quality elsewhere rather than the particular merits of this film. Or they're just cowards afraid to tell the truth. This film is a Bore with a capital B. Mais oui!
Although distinguished by heartbreaking and feeling portrayals by Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges) and Emannuelle Riva (Anne) — whose placid lives are riven by her fast-deteriorating health — Amour is little more than a very slowly paced visit to a nursing home, where indignity triumphs over life, no matter how well-lived formerly. It is beyond painful, indeed it is at times even excruciating to watch.
In the first act, we are treated to a few playful interchanges between these two haute bourgeois former music teachers, and can feel a devoted bond between them that has withstood time's ravages. But after she suffers a few strokes, he is reduced to a very put-upon caretaker, only agreeing to visits from a private nurse when her needs become overwhelming. Even still, we must bear witness to his repeated attempts to feed her (against her will, finally), clothe her and guide her to the bathroom. One instance of Georges force-feeding Anne would have sufficed, but Haneke revisits the occasion three times. We get it, Mike.....
This is where one might invoke that much used phrase "need to know basis." Even before entering a darkened theater last week, I knew I wasn't in for Dumb and Dumber or a Marx Brothers romp, but that I would be witness to a sad scenario with little light at tunnel's end. That's what one signs up for in a Haneke film, which he claims are "anti-psychological" and which forbid us to feel sympathy for his characters. But I did expect to be touched and moved rather than just depressed. Alas, it was not to be — there was a "dry eye in the house," and it was my own.
Mind you, there are those who will still find much to "enjoy" in Amour, if only in the stolid performances of the lead actors. There is little spare sentiment or moments of grace or humor to distill the impending doom of Anne's demise. The manner of her passing was the one moment of dramatic interest in a film that is the high culture equivalent of watching (gray) paint dry. At 127 minutes, that's a load of Sherwin-Williams — I suggest you bring a pillow and loads of skepticism.