Tuesday, November 25, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Amour': Dull, dreary and beyond endurance

The moment comes without warning: Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) suddenly discovers that his wife isn’t present in her own skin, as if her soul has been extinguished. Moments later, she’s back, unaware that anything is wrong ... but this initial stroke is merely the first indication that her body will, in time, betray her in the cruelest way possible. Courtesy photo

By
From page A11 | February 08, 2013 |

“Amour”

Two stars

Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell

Rating: PG-13, for dramatic intensity, painful intimacy, brief profanity and fleeting nudity

Strong performances are buried beneath insufferable directorial flourishes

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

However impressive Emmanuelle Riva’s starring role in “Amour” — and her work transcends mere words such as brave and raw — the film itself is a colossal yawn.

At all times, and in every possible way, writer/director Michael Haneke refuses to grant access to these characters; they’re little more than two-dimensional ciphers. Dialogue is sparse, Haneke often preferring the intimate intensity of searching gazes amplified by extreme close-ups. He and cinematographer Darius Khondji also favor faraway compositions, with people occupying only a small portion of an otherwise quiet and static room.

Haneke holds, at great length, on the most mundane behavior — unpacking groceries, donning clothing, eating meals — to a point well beyond aggravation. This really isn’t a film, or a least not a narrative in the conventional sense: more a lengthy tone poem or mood piece.

The wafer-thin story could be scrawled on a postcard: Retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Riva) are enjoying their twilight years in a spacious city apartment laden with culture: books, music, a piano. She suffers a sudden stroke, then in time endures a second, much more crippling one; she declines before her husband’s eyes. And ours.

He insists on caring for her, coping as best he can. Which, ultimately, isn’t too well.

That’s all, folks.

So yes, fine: Haneke’s emphasis on the routine and commonplace underscores the degree to which Anne finds it harder and harder to accomplish any of the thousand-and-one little tasks that we take for granted each day. Dressing, eating, moving across a room. Going to the bathroom.

But all this would mean more — and become more poignant — if we had the slightest clue about this couple, prior to this tragedy. They appear to have done well professionally; money isn’t an issue. But did they get along? Were they satisfied with living through the artistic successes of students who went on to become famous? Are they kind and honorable? Do their deserve our sympathy?

They have one child: an adult daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who appears to have married unhappily. Her personal life is sketched even more superficially, her relationship with her parents strained at best, possibly even estranged. She and her father talk like casual back-fence neighbors, rather than intimates. We’ve no idea why. At best, Eva behaves like a self-centered dolt; at worst, she could be actively insensitive. Impossible to be sure.

Huppert’s performance is brittle and clumsy, as if she’s trying to fabricate behavior on the spot, rather than having studied a script and rehearsed a part.

These people are so superficial, their lives so claustrophobic — we spend the entire film within the rooms of this apartment — that Haneke’s dry, leaden touch minimizes the very emotional intensity we should be experiencing. It’s almost as if Haneke and Riva are working against each other, with the director undercutting, minimizing and muting his lead actress’ achingly powerful performance.

Yes, fleeting moments are unexpectedly powerful, and — as the narrative progresses — Haneke imbues this apartment with an unsettling atmosphere of creepy tension that strongly echoes Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” wherein Catherine Deneuve slowly went mad within the walls of her self-imposed apartment prison. But Haneke’s snapshots of emotional brilliance inevitably are undone by prolonged stretches of … nothing.

Then, too, there’s the mystery of this story’s prologue, and the questions raised by the emergency crew that removes a barricade in order to enter the apartment. Barricaded, from the outside? Say what?

This, actually, is where the saga concludes; the story then unfolds as an extended flashback.

Anne suffers her first stroke while she and Georges share a meal; she simply freezes, her expression blank, as if all the inner synapses have failed to fire. Unable to rouse her, his concern mounting by the moment, Georges prepares to call a doctor. But then, just as suddenly, Anne is back, utterly unaware of the missing few minutes.

He wants her examined anyway; pride and defiance chase each other across Riva’s expressive face as Anne objects. He apparently perseveres; some period of time passes, and she returns home after unsuccessful (botched?) medical intervention, her entire right side now paralyzed. (It should be mentioned that Haneke appears to take a rather dim view of the French health care system.)

They adjust to this new reality, Anne growing more frustrated by what she’s no longer able to do or enjoy, Georges increasingly troubled by her unwillingness to cope.

They entertain one unexpected visitor: a former student (Alexandre Tharaud) now turned concert pianist, who takes a chance and just “drops in.” The atmosphere is tense, uncomfortable; the visit is short. When he later sends them one of his CDs, Anne cannot listen to it, apparently reminded too much of what she’s no longer able to do at a piano.

Then, precisely at the midpoint of this 127-minute slog, one scene cuts to the next and whoosh … suddenly Anne is in bed, now infirm, having suffered another, much more severe stroke. We’ve no idea how much more time has passed; indeed, it’s impossible to clock the passage of time to any degree. In a sense, time doesn’t exist: no doubt another deliberate touch on Haneke’s part, and just as irritating as so many others.

Nurses become part of the routine; one proves a disaster, an exchange so brief that we wonder if some relevant scenes have been chopped away. Her “exit wages” are 780 euros, surely a suggestion that she has been present for at least several days.

Haneke can’t be bothered with such details. He’s far more interested in (for example) showing the paintings — one … after another … after another — on the walls of this apartment. Paintings with no people, further symbolizing Anne and Georges’ enforced isolation. We get it, we get it.

Riva has garnered the lion’s share of acting attention, and she certainly deserves the accolades; you’ll not soon forget the heartbreaking, painful intimacy of her performance (this despite — never because of — Haneke’s intolerable filmmaking style). We ache for the wearing away of Anne’s dignity, and her increasingly desperate efforts to cling to the more radiant self she must have been.

In fairness, though, Trintignant deserves equal credit for a performance that is less “showy” but just as strong. We see the depth of love in Georges’ eyes, the growing despair as the woman he knows withdraws from him … in part because of the strokes, but also of her own doing, because she can’t bear him to see her like this. Trintignant radiates mounting grief at a level that becomes painful.

Or it would be painful, anyway, given better circumstances. Under Haneke’s guidance, however, Riva and Trintignant too frequently act up a storm in a vacuum. We can’t help being relieved when the screen finally goes dark: not for any sense of closure to this sad, dreary saga, but simply out of gratitude for the bloody film being over and done with.

A best picture nomination? Best direction? Best writing?

Gimme a break.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Grant means new push for moving tracks out of town

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Some say council needs to reconsider MRAP

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    UC to create $250 million venture capital fund

    By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

     
    School district may redevelop downtown site

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

    DUI suspected in crash

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Master Gardeners share their wisdom at free workshops

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Scots vote to stay in UK

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    France strikes Islamic State group’s depot in Iraq

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Man faces arson charge in huge California wildfire

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Telling tales, on ‘Davisville’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Volunteers sought to make veggie bags

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Storyteller will draw on music, dance

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Woodland Healthcare offering flu shots

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Putah Creek Bike Path to close temporarily

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Little Free Libraries open at Montgomery

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A3

     
    Project Linus seeks donations

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Rabid bat found at Holmes Junior High

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Students invited to apply for Blue & White grants

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Halloween costume sale benefits preschool

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Register to vote by Oct. 20

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Free workout class set at library

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Explorit: Lots of ways to be a volunteer

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Sierra Club remembers longtime walker

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    DHS Classes of 1954 and 1955 will hold 60th reunion

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Nonprofits can get DCN’s help

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Davis maps available at Chamber office

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Reception benefits endangered gorillas

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    Downtown history tour planned in October

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Sutter Farmers Market offers local goods

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8 | Gallery

     
    Wolk applauds approval of stronger rules for olive oil

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    Davis hosts its own climate change rally

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Qigong classes available for heart health

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    .

    Forum

    Sick of being the bad guy

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Educate homeless with dogs

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

    Cheers and Jeers: Not the end of the rainbow

    By Our View | From Page: A6

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

    Return to previous plan

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Save the ‘pine cone place’

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Affirm our community values

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    Project has safety risks

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Learn more about Paso Fino

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Sports

    Blue Devil volleyballers hold off Herd

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggies’ new energy could be scary for Big West

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

    No rest for the weary: Aggie TE Martindale busy on and off the field

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Devils hope the light bulb turns on at Edison

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    River Cats and Giants sign two-year deal

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Mustangs are no match for DHS boys in water polo

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

    Take Zona and Bama this week

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: B2

     
    A’s slide continues as Rangers sweep

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    .

    Features

    Name Droppers: Awards keep coming for UC Davis retiree

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Business

    Redesigned 2015 Escalade remains breed all its own

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Carol L. Walsh

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Friday, September 19, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Real Estate Review

    Featured Listing

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER1

    Professional Services Directory

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER2

    Taylor Morrison

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER3

    Malek Baroody

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

    Norcal Land

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER5

    Robin Garland

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER6

    Karen Waggoner

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

    Dana Hawkins

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

    Martha Bernauer

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

    Joe Kaplan

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

    Lynne Wegner

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

    Remax

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

    Melrina A Maggiora

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER10

    Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER11

    Julie Leonard

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER11

    Coldwell Banker

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER12

    Kim Eichorn

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER14

    Lyon Real Estate

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

    Jamie Madison & Associates

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

    Marcelo Campos

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

    Julie Partain

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

    Bob Bockwinkel

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

    Juan Ramirez

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

    Kim Merrel Lamb

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

    Chris Snow

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER18

    James Hanna

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER18

    Raul Zamora

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER19

    Susan von Geldern

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER19

    Travis Credit Union

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER20

    Karen Waggoner

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER21

    Jamie Madison

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER21

    Tracy Harris

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER22

    Lisa Haass

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER22

    First Street Real Estate

    By Zack Snow | From Page: RER24