Review: Amour is Academy Award-nominated emotional torture porn

Source: Sony Pictures Classic

Ya know all those xenophobic jerks that don’t like French films because “I don’t wanna go to the movies to read” or because “that movie is just gonna be so depressing”? For once, they’re right. Well, at least, half right. Such is the case with Michael Haneke’s Amour, the foreign film that is overwhelming the Oscars. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it is about the life of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) in their twilight years. After Anne suffers a stroke, she is left paralyzed on one side of her body and Georges must take care of her. Sounds depressing, right? That’s the problem with Amour. It shouldbe depressing, but it’s not really anything.

The moments I was sure I was supposed to feel something feel so detached. By the time the true agony and heartbreak, of which there is plenty, plays out, the sadness is sort of all encompassing. I’ve always been of the mindset that most things can be considered art as long as they make you feel. You can feel happy. You can feel sad. You can feel angry, but for God’s sake, feel something. Haneke has always challenged this notion with his films, notably the torturous Funny Games, but with Amour, something doesn’t click. The anchor of the film is this core relationship between the two. In fact, the film features almost nothing except the decaying relationship between the two. Therefore, the numbness that pretty much swallows you as you watch the movie is kind of off-putting. Still, I’m not one to dislike a movie just because I didn’t like it.

Source: Sony Pictures Classic

After all, Amour is not entirely without its merits, considering it has garnered five Academy Award nominations. The most deserved one is undoubtedly the praise being heaped upon Emmanuelle Riva. She has a certain fragility to her character as we see her slip away. Still, even in her weakest moments, she commands the attention of the audience with mere mumbles. It is a truly extraordinary and heartbreaking performance. However, Jean-Louis Trintignant is equally deserving of recognition as the man torn between doing what is best for himself as well as his wife and honoring her wishes. The performances of Amourare truly the saving graces of this film.

However, the performances are not enough to save the film. Its realism is so soul crushing and excruciating, but Haneke fails to capture most of that. Instead, he seems to delight in making Amour difficult to watch. When asked to describe the film, the only phrase that comes to mind is “emotional torture porn.” The film challenges you to see how long you can hold out before buckling under the tremendous emotional pressure of Amour. Ultimately, if that was Haneke’s challenge, I am happy to admit that I failed. In a calculated defense mechanism, about halfway through the movie, I had no choice but to, essentially, shut off. For all of its emotional grandstanding, Amour’s main fault is its soullessness. I’m not sure if I couldn’t feel much of anything by the end because of my own emotionally stunted growth or because Haneke presents all of these elements in such a detached fashion. Some might argue that Haneke does not imbue his film with his own sentimentality, but rather, he allows the viewer to paint their own emotional portrait of Georges and Anne’s life together. Still, one can’t help but be torn between the material and its presentation. The actual story, or sometimes lack thereof, is the issue in Amour. While the emotional elements of the film were somewhat lacking, there is no denying that the film is extraordinary to look at. Amour beguiles audiences with its beautiful camerawork and masterful performances, but otherwise, revels in its emotionally painful material and emotionally detached presentation. Regardless of your interpretation, Amour is a technically well-made and acted film, but its emotionally closed-off approach to an admittedly sentimental subject is its downfall.

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About the author: Calhoun
Calhoun
Calhoun Kersten is unofficially over-educated and unemployable. he is currently finishing up his Masters thesis on horror films from DePaul University, but now resides in Hell on earth aka Los Angeles. When he's not writing, he enjoys being a grown man who still watches Arthur on PBS, singing along loudly to Three 6 Mafia, and spending time with his dog, Karl Marx.

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  • http://twitter.com/ClaraCivry Clara Luja

    “Its realism is so soul crushing and excruciating, but Haneke fails to
    capture most of that. Instead, he seems to delight in making Amour difficult to watch.”

    I cannot stress how much I agree with this. I am fan of french films (I recently wrote about François Ozon) and a fan of Haneke (loved The white ribbon) but I left the cinema angry and displeased. It was torture to see, the movie was so real. Well made? Yes, but too raw and horrible to be enjoyable. And like you said, there is a kind of detachment form the whole thing. Horrible things are happening and you feel distant. And I’m a person who cries in movies. A lot. But this…. is just too terrible. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks like this!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1433160170 Calhoun Kersten

      I was a little nervous to write this review because I know it’s not a popular opinion, but seriously, this movie did nothing for me. I didn’t even hate it. I just felt… numb.

      I’m glad you were at least able to enjoy the review!