Last weekend, my husband and I took a little road trip into Tennessee to see the final film nominated for best picture, Amour. At the theater, Amour was tucked away in a small, far back theater, where we were joined by no more than twenty other viewers, all of whom seemed to be over fifty. I guess most young people would rather watch Bruce Willis in another Die Hard episode than a quiet film in French about an old couple slowly facing mortality. C’est la vie.
Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are our starring couple. They are retired music teachers now in their eighties who quietly reside in their small Paris apartment. One day, their lives are interrupted by a small moment where Anne seems to blackout and become unresponsive. We never see her in a hospital, but as Georges explains to their daughter, she had an operation to remove a tumor, but it didn’t work. This leaves Anne in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed. We watch as more and more of Anne’s independance slips away and Georges takes care of her, making sure to keep his promise to never let her go back into a hospital.
At the age of 84, Emmanuelle Riva has become the oldest person ever nominated for best actress. Her portrayal of Anne is moving, beautiful and sadly truthful. She brings a wonderful sense of wit and quiet determination to Anne on her better days in the early half of the film. As Anne declines, Riva’s performance grows more powerful. It must be very hard to be so convincing as someone laying in bed dying, desperately trying to say something that comes out not making much sense. Moments where Anne feels that she is becoming more of a burden for Georges, we can see a sense of shame and sadness in her eyes, even though she tries to remain strong when she can.
While Anne fades, it’s Georges that keeps the film moving. Surely Trintignant was considered for best actor. We watch as he is burdened more and more by Anne’s debilitating condition. For the most part, he copes well, is a wonderfully supportive husband and Annes biggest advocate. I wanted to cheer at how he handled a less than gentle nurse. However, taking care of someone full time who is becoming so helpless can wear on anyone. We see moments where he is short with Anne that sting. His patience and love for his wife is tested and many will not believe his final act of love for Anne.
Amour is nominated for five Academy Awards. Hailing from Austria, it is a sure-win as best foreign film. Its other nominations are for best picture, original screenplay, Michael Haneke for best director, Riva for best actress.
This is not a fun or easy film to watch. It’s about loss, suffering and a slow descent into death. It’s very much like sitting and visiting with an elderly person slowly slipping away. The long silences is either heavy or peaceful. Moments where is Anne losing control, not making sense or just crying out in pain are heartbreaking and make you feel as helpless as she does. But the experience makes you wiser, more appreciative of the good times in life and thankful for those courageous enough to stay by their side.
“I remember the feeling. That I was ashamed of crying, but that telling him the story made all my feelings and tears come back, almost more powerfully than when I was actually watching the film, and that I just couldn’t stop.”