A couple of nights ago I watched Michael Haneke’s much-lauded film Amour, in the original French, without subtitles. Now this wasn’t an act of great pretension, I hadn’t thought that after four series of Spiral, the gritty Parisian cop drama that my schoolgirl French could handle a two-hour examination of love in its own language. No my wii box that has been hacked to play dvds wasn’t up to the job and able to provide the English translation.
So with great intrepidation I proceeded, and of course I will have missed much of the subtleties just like my time in Paris as a youngster I could understand the greetings and the beginnings and ends of sentences, alloras, and the voilas, the je crois, et je pense but not much of the main dialogue in the middle. The line I was most confident with was “no I am sorry Monsieur I couldn’t get you any tomatoes from the market.” As plot pointers go, I am not sure how vital that was. But it proved how much of communication is non-verbal. That actions speak louder than words. The plot was straightforward, the protagonists were retired music teachers, seemly happy and content, he told her she looked tres jolie,”(very pretty) after a night out to a concert, facing what we will probably face, a debilitating illness of ourselves or our partner at the end of our lives.
But even despite lack of comprehension, I loved the film. Amour, Je t’adore. It is a masterpiece. For me the true test of a film is if you think about afterwards, and Amour has lingered with me for days and days. I can’t get those images of the elderly couple and how the husband cared for his wife after her stroke out of my head. Despite the immense hardship he was so gentle with her, so caring. And it was not easy. There was despair. But everything seemed to be dealt with a quiet fortitude and despite scenes where nothing happened apart from an old man was trying to get a very bedridden old woman to drink some water, the film was compelling and mesmerizing. This due to the incredible performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva and the unflinching script and direction by Michael Haneke. This is a love story but there is no sentimentality here.
We are all so used to the Hollywood version of love, two youthful, beautiful actors meeting up, breaking up, and overcoming adversity to the happy ever after that to see a film where the average age of the actors was 86, where there was no “action” to speak of, no soundtrack, no flashy editing or camera effects, just a simple story told honestly and realistically and yet was the most sincere and genuine portrayal of love I had ever seen. But you just know that if they had pitched the idea in LA, it would never have been green lit in a million years.
But made it was in France, it won the Palm D’Or at Cannes Film Festival and was recognised with nominations for in all the major categories at the Oscars this year, director, script, best actress for Emmanuelle Riva and even nominated in the Best Film category (it won best foreign language film). So I am happy to see that even if Hollywood couldn’t make this film they can at least appreciate it.
Have a look at trailer, there are subtitles.. you probably understand more about the film now then I do, but I really recommend Amour, even in French, but I warn you it will break your heart.