Remember last year's Marigold or, more formally, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? It was a joyful romp of a film with a cast of long-lived, professional actors who can't be beat – the best of the best of the Brits - that gave us a few easily palatable truths about old age without threatening the movie's upbeat intentions.
Marigold was nominated for a fair number of awards but won few.
A new, old people movie, Amour, has already won a slew of lesser awards and is up for five Oscars next Sunday – all top tier: best picture, best actress, best director, best screenplay and best foreign language film. (It is in French with subtitles.)
With Lincoln and Argo in the mix this year, it is doubtful that Amour will pick up statuettes for any of those big categories except, perhaps, foreign film.
Too bad. But it may be that Amour needs no awards. The film already feels like it will – or already has – become a classic to be viewed now and again over a long period of time.
I had been counseled by some that it might be too hard to watch and just about every reviewer, while praising the film, also warned off their readers: “shocking,” they wrote, “scary,” “disturbing,” “a true horror story.”
Au contraire. It is life. The movie is exactly right about what often happens at the end. Anyone who has cared for a loved one knows there is no way writer/director Michael Haneke could have made this film without having experienced it.
Certainly, Haneke has lived Georges' aching, exhausting devotion to his beloved whose body and mind are failing until she becomes no more than a mewling infant in an adult's worn-out shell. And yet Georges goes on because – because that is what amour is until, in his case, he can no longer endure.
I watched Amour over this past long weekend three times – twice back-to-back in four hours and again after letting a day go by. It is no less searing for being repeated in that time frame while it also grows more haunting, more beautiful, more important.
Many of us at this blog have lived this story with a spouse sometimes or with a parent or someone else we love deeply. For me, it was my mother, and I cannot know how it is different for those with the private, shared history of decades of marriage, each such relationship unique unto itself, something outsiders cannot understand.
What I do know is that every moment of the daily details of Amour are true and real and honest. I was not shocked, as some critics, with the subject. What surprised me, though, was Georges doing exactly the things I did when caring for my mother as she was dying.
It is stupid, of course, but somehow I had imagined those were individual to the two of us - cutting meat for her, tolerating her when she lashed out at me, her asking to see the photo albums, assisting her on the toilet.
Like what I came to feel then, the film portrays the banality of ordinary life that continues even at this tragic juncture that you want to be more meaningful. But as weary as you become, there are the bed to change and shopping to do while somehow tolerating the ceaseless despair that for this person you love with all your heart, this person who gives your own life meaning in ways you cannot count or maybe even know, there is only one overpoweringly grievous outcome.
It must be for that reason that some I have read say they “hate” this movie. But one, then, might as well hate birth for, without getting all existential on you, we each move through time and our mortality will not be denied.
The best of art – paintings, books, poems, plays, movies – help us stretch our consciousness beyond the conventional and simplistic. With Amour, Michael Haneke and his two stars, octogenarians Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, have done that and I am grateful to them.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Stroppy: The Park Bench