The question of the hour isn’t “What are we to do about the fiscal cliff” but “What are we to do with Mom and Dad?” With the great bulge-in-the-python of Baby Boomers worldwide, it sometimes seems as if the entire focus of civil society has turned to long-care insurance vs. Medicare vs. DIY home care for our elders. That we’re not shying away from this ethical and existential issue was evidenced by the full house at Kahala 8 on a Saturday night for Amour, the rigorous and unsplashy film by Michael Haneke. Rightly winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Picture, Amour is French through and through (despite Haneke being Austrian) but you won’t mistake it for Amélie.
Filmed in Haneke’s trademark long, quiet and uninterrupted shots, in which the viewer has a choice of either checking his smartphone or entering imaginatively into the consciousness of the character, Amour is about an 80-something husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). Both are deeply enmeshed in the classical music world–she’s a piano teacher whose children are touring musicians and whose latest protégé is a budding star.
They live a beautiful life as a couple, minds in synch, conversation and moods exquisitely attuned. Self-sufficient, they don’t really need anyone else as long as they have each other, music and a civilized life in their tastefully appointed 19th century Paris apartment. Indeed, that apartment is where 95 percent of the action takes place, and we get to know its spatial and spiritual qualities as well as any character.
But they are old. And when the first “insult cerebral” strikes Anne, the stroke is immediately recognized by both as an attack on the edifice of their lives. Georges never falters: His love is as grand as any of the thundering chords in Les Mis. Anne falters, and forgets, and grasps the nettle: She does not want to continue living a life as a cripple or, in particular, an object of pity. But as all of us who have cared for a parent in their later years know, there’s no outwitting or avoiding the staircase of decline. To quote from Van Morrison, whose musical repertory Georges and Anne would barely deign to acknowledge, “Here comes the night.”
The acting here is humbling in its eloquence and lack of physical or verbal histrionics. Trintignant, famous since the ‘50s for iconic roles (The Conformist, Z, A Man and a Woman), imbues his Georges with dry wit, frustration, self-restraint, anger and resolve. Riva’s Anne is the flashier role–I’m kidding, right?–but what can you call an 83-year-old actress immersing herself in decline, aphasia, partial paralysis and insensibility, except flashy and, well, an act of intellectual heroism? That ain’t no fat suit she’s wearing.
As the Greeks first figured out, a good work of art about a difficult subject is cathartic. Seeing Amour back-to-back with Zero Dark Thirty reminded me of how affinities can link otherwise disparate modalities. Both films take place in claustrophobic worlds, both stories are about professional lives that require tremendous focus and self-abnegation: Both directors, Haneke and Zero’s Kathryn Bigelow, narrow their narratives down to an endpoint that leaves no triumph, only a haunted kind of self-knowledge. In this bunker we’re in, nobody gets out alive, and nothing we, the living, can do will bring back the dead.
On that cheery note, let’s all drink to life (and live folk-dancing!) at the Doris Duke’s Jewish Film Festival. The acclaimed Mabul kicks things off, and besides dancing, the March 2 opening night party features pupu by Da Spot. Of particular interest to us in water-loving Hawaii is Dolphin Boy, a documentary of how a severely traumatized, nonverbal child is brought out of his shell via four years of therapy based upon swimming with dolphins. Watermen, pack your hankies!