Saturday, February 23, 2013

I want to say that this is a review of the movie "Amour", the critically acclaimed art house hit from France that is up for 5 Oscars this year, (2013).  But this isn't really a review.  It's more of a question.  And I'd like anyone who reads this to help me answer that question.  Which is this:

Why didn't I like this film?

At all!  I mean I really did not like it.  I could just chalk it up to "not my cup of tea", etc.  and call it a day, but I'm not that kind of person.  The fact is that this movie, and more specifically everyone's reaction to it, is a mystery to me.  The type of mystery that this picture is desperately lacking.

I came home searching in vain on the internet for someone who agreed with me.  I kept coming across reviews of Amour that usually started with words like "masterpiece" and "brilliant" and "unflinching genius".  If nothing else, it was indeed an unflinching piece of work.  But "genius"?  Wow.  I had such a different experience.

Finally I found one review that at first glance seemed to share my opinion.  Alex Billington of screamed "I can't stand it!" in the first paragraph no less.  "A kindred spirit!", I told myself.  "Alex is a real life film critic", I thought.  "He'll give me the ammo I need when I'm stuck at some dinner party and have to intelligently explain why I didn't like the most celebrated film in years."

Unfortunately my heart sank as I read Alex's review.   At least he knows why he didn't like it.  Because he was raised on "spectacle films and cinematic entertainment that whisks you away to another world".  This can't be why I didn't like it.  I was raised on Kubrick, Bergman & Truffaut.  I loved entertainment films too, like classic Hitchcock and even some early Spielberg.  But I'm not an escapist fan.  I fancy myself as someone who champions "serious" film making and will give even the most pretentious piece of digital celluloid a fighting chance to win me over.   I loved The Master this past year, and Tree of Life the year before.  I even enjoyed Barry Lyndon, which some Kubrick fans even find boring.

So it's not the "super slowness" or the "rub reality in your face" aspect of the film that bugged me.  I got all that and even enjoyed the film's "technique".  I just felt it didn't engage me.  I know it was a conscience decision to let things linger longer than conventional movies.  I know that director Michael Haneke obviously has film making chops despite the utter simplicity of this piece.  He shows a flash of that talent in a brilliant little dream sequence where George, played by Jean-Louis Trinignant, has a metaphorical premonition of his wife's ultimate demise. 

Let me take a moment to accentuate other positive points.  Emmanuelle Riva, as Georges dying wife Jeanne, is absolutely wonderful and deserves the oscar nomination that she got for it.  Her transformation from a confidant, self reliant senior citizen who is  respected and even feared by people like her daughter (the always competent Isabelle Huppert), into a literally speechless and helpless invalid is nothing short of transformative.

Other good moments include Georges mercilessly firing a horribly incompetent nurse and Jeanne flipping through an old photo album talking about how simply wonderful life was.  Done without the usual sentimental pap that you see in Hollywood films.  

There's also not a spot of music in the entire film.  Another brilliant choice in my opinion.  The way most major studio films use music to command emotional responses from viewers is an abomination as far as I'm concerned.

So there are many reasons to applaud this bold film.  There are many reasons to praise the actors and some of the choices of film makers.  What I found lacking was any reason to like it. 

There are many slow cut films, like The Master, 2001, Tree of Life, that also have bold choices and refuse to pander to the expectations of the audience.  Why do I want to see those films over and over again?  And why do I doubt that I'd watch Amour ever film again if you paid me?  I think it comes down to one word.


There was absolutely no mystery in the movie.  In fact when Georges (spoiler alert) finally succumbs to agony of taking care of the suffering love of his life and he puts her out of her misery, not only is it not a surprise.  It's not even a relief!  It's just more agony poured on top or more agony!  After that we have to suffer through another half hour or so of Georges demise.  Chasing pigeons around his house and cutting off the tips of flowers.  Every tip!  Of every flower!!!  Stop, please!!  You're killing me!!!

Seriously, we're all going to die.  That's no mystery.  We've all seen, or are going to see, loved ones get sick and suffer.  Again, not a mystery.  There doesn't seem to be an easy way around the tough choices most people have to make towards the end of a life.  This movie presents those choices starkly and bravely.  I commend them for the effort.  I don't mind that it lacks a message or a real point of view, which bigger commercial films often overdo in the worst way.  What I mind is that it doesn't really raise questions either, or show us any unique way to look at this suffering.  I'm not asking for a pat way to "deal" with it or "put it in perspective".  What I'm asking for is better questions.  Something to make me think more.  More mystery.  Less "pure" suffering.

Why rub our faces in the horrors that await us at the end of life if we're all gonna' get our faces rubbed in it eventually anyway?  I really don't see the point.  No matter how tastefully it's done.

Hollywood likes to separate films into "entertainment" or "serious art".  I think that's a horrible distinction that doesn't exist in the work of people  I consider the world's best film makers ever.  Bergman, Truffaut, Malick, Scorsese, Welles, The Cohen Brothers, PT Anderson, Wes Anderson and of course Kubrick.  

In fact, Stanley Kubrick put it best when he famously said to Matthew Modine on the set of Full Metal Jacket, after a take that Matthew thought was "good".  Stanley simply responded to him by saying "Real is good.  Interesting is Better."

Amour was very real.  I just didn't find it very interesting.