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Film review: 'Amour' is wonderfully complicated

January 18, 2013|By Andy Klein
(Courtesy of Sony…)

Having already won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and several of the most important critics' awards, Michael Haneke's “Amour” has scored an unexpected five Oscar nominations. It's unusual for the usually ghettoized European art films to score anything beyond the Foreign Language category, plus maybe one or two nominations in the general categories. The Oscars belong to Hollywood; and (not surprisingly) Hollywood tends to like the same sorts of movies that Hollywood makes.

You'd have to go back more than a decade, to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” to find a wholly non-English film to be nominated for Best Picture, and the number of such nominees before can be counted on two hands (with a few digits left over). What's more, “Amour” isn't an obvious crowd pleaser like “Life Is Beautiful.” It's a difficult film, deliberately cold, offering very little by way of uplift.

The main characters — nearly the only characters — are Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne Laurent (Emmanuelle Riva). (It should be pointed out that the central characters in the great majority of Haneke's films are named Georges and Anne Laurent. No fooling.) They are 80-ish, live in Paris, and have been married forever. She is a classical pianist and teacher; though of middle-class means, they are both of the intellectual/cultural elite, surrounded by books and CDs.

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The opening scene shows police and firefighters busting open the door of the Laurents' apartment, thus letting loose a horrible smell. The bedroom doorway has been sealed off with tape, apparently to contain the odor, but the latter has become too strong for such limp protection to be effective. When they break into the bedroom, they find Anne's decaying but (nicely laid out) corpse on the bed, festooned with flower petals.

After the credits, we apparently have entered a flashback: Georges and Anne are inconspicuously in the audience of a piano recital; afterward they visit the performer, one of Anne's former students, backstage, and then ride home on a bus. Entering their place, they discover (oddly) that the front door has been broken open.

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