Saturday, February 23, 2013


Imagine a really dour On Golden Pond in French

     Michael Haneke’s Amour has been a major deal with critics and awards’ associations and will win the Best Foreign Film Oscar.  About thirty years ago, Rainer Werner Fassbinder made a number of movies that were compared to glossy Douglas Sirk/Ross Hunter productions from the 1950s because they were soap operas.  However, Fassbinder’s take on the steamy Hollywood extravaganzas resulted in Teutonic, depressive, overtly sexualized and politicized films.  The reason behind this obscure reference is because I
think Amour is an unintentional Austrian-French homage to On Golden Pond.  

Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn in On Golden Pond
     It has the same basic set-up in that an elderly couple face a health crisis and a difficult adult daughter, reach a resolution, and move on.  In the American version, the couple seem like they’re indestructible even though both are physically shaky.  They also mutually forgive their daughter.  In the French version, the couple look like they’re about to crap out from the beginning and, eventually, they do.  Actually, Haneke tries to juice up some suspense by showing the authorities breaking into the couple’s beautiful, yet increasingly oppressive, Parisian apartment and finding the wife, who has been dead for a while. We don’t know where the husband is so that pulls the viewer into the narrative.

Jean-Louis Trintignant
with Emmanuelle Riva
     The acting in both films is exemplary.  However, American viewers had a metaphysical experience with Henry Fonda’s character in 1981 because his ill health was highly publicized.  His working/personal relationship with Jane Fonda was an element in the film’s commercial and artistic success.  She inhabits the only believable character in the movie and gives the best performance so in Hollywood logic that resulted in a nomination, but no Oscar.  Henry Fonda is irascible, but cute, repeating ‘suck face’ from his eventual step-grandson’s colloquial phrase.  Katharine Hepburn was in her late career where she shook, got weepy, read people the riot act, and stood like the oak she thought she was even as the wind blew off many of her leaves.  

Emmanuelle Riva in Amour
     In Amour, Jean-Louis Trintignant’s character is very ambiguous.  Neil thought he was the monster that his wife, played by Emmanuelle Reva, described him.  She gives a technically brilliant performance as the character survives two strokes, but is decimated physically before facing the final juncture of her husband’s love.  Isabelle Huppert plays 
Isabelle Huppert Confronts Trintignant
their insecure, self-righteous daughter.  Huppert looks wonderful as she approaches 60, which speaks volumes for the superiority of the French diet.  Her character never approaches an understanding of her parents.  She’s still as shut out of their lives as Jane Fonda’s character was until the climax of On Golden Pond.  

     Birds figure in both as symbols for the couple – loons in Pond and pigeons in Amour.  The way in which Trintignant captures a pigeon to release from the apartment’s hallway is tender, almost brutal, and a revelation of his mortality simultaneously.  In Pond, the loons are postcard icons.  Fonda and Hepburn interact with both the interior and exterior scenery, but in Amour the couple never are seen outside of their apartment after the initial sequence.  It reminded me of Sartre’s No Exit, where the three characters are trapped forever in a drawing room.  That was about an emotional hell in purgatory.  Amour is about eventual release.

     I was in a minority that didn’t like On Golden Pond.  To me, it seemed like a phony, sanitized gloss on the difficulties of aging and family relationships.  Amour is a great movie because it makes unpleasant, ambivalent emotions and issues palpable, but I didn’t like it one bit.  It was endless and that seemed to be part of the point. One scene made me want to leap out of my seat because it came right out of my past and I didn’t care to relive it. I could cut twenty minutes from it, but the sense of limbo would be lost.  Zero Dark Thirty embarrassed the Right and enraged the Left for showing torture; Amour is torture. 

No comments: