After the initial screenings of the 71 foreign language films, it seemed like the battle for the Oscar would be between Amour and the popular French entry, The Intouchables. However, thanks to its questionable political correctness and to the dubious system by which 30 people choose the five nominees from a short list of nine, The Intouchables didn’t even get nominated. That left Amour as the overwhelming favorite, particularly as it was also nominated in four other categories: Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Haneke), Best Original Screenplay (Haneke) and best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva). Riva, who will celebrate her 86th birthday the day of the Oscar ceremony, is the oldest-ever nominee in the Best Actress (or Best Actor) category.
Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant (who is only 82 years old) play Anne and Georges, a married couple who have shared a long and satisfying life performing and teaching classical music. They have a daughter, a beautiful home in Paris, successful and grateful former students and a rich intellectual involvement. Life is good. But one morning Anne has a stroke. An operation doesn’t help, so Anne faces an inevitable slow physical and mental deterioration. Georges sticks with her all the way, step by discouraging step. When the lights went up at the screening I attended, I realized that, at age 64, I was younger than most of the audience, the majority of whom were Academy voters. In the lobby, I listened in to people’s reactions, expecting the older viewers to have found Amour depressing. But that was not at all the case. The clear consensus, accompanied by shrugs of shoulders, was that the film was an honest, unflinching portrayal of the reality of aging.
My only objection to Amour is that Haneke employs a technique that is one of my pet peeves: betraying the ending in the opening scene. The film begins with firemen, police and the daughter breaking into an apartment, covering their faces to protect against poisonous air until they can throw open the windows, and then discovering a dead body carefully laid out on a bed. Did this scene really make for a better story? I think not. At least it wasn’t as bad as Belgium’s entry this year, Our Children, in which we learn in the first two minutes that a mother has murdered her four children. Viewers are then subjected to 110 excruciating minutes of background. No thanks.
Michael Haneke’s black and white feature The White Ribbon was nominated in the Foreign Language category three years ago. For the record, Riva and Trintignant previously appeared together in the Italian film I Kill, You Kill (Io uccido, tu uccidi)… in 1965.