Monday, January 7, 2013

Amour

Amour
seen @ Film Forum, New York, NY
1.4.13

I've talked before about the last years of my father's life and of how fortunate it was that his mind didn't deteriorate at the same rate as his body. As I recall, it wasn't until the final weeks or so that his mind began to slip a little bit. The rest of the time, I could talk to him as easily as I can talk to you.

Still, it wasn't always easy living with the knowledge that he would never walk again. He always loomed large in my memory - partly because he was well over six feet tall and played football in college - but also for his intellect. I didn't always agree with him on everything; in fact, in certain matters I thought he could be shockingly obtuse and close-minded - but he did love a good debate. He had "street smarts" as well as book smarts; he could talk to corporate businessmen and single mothers from the ghetto alike, without condescending to either.


When I think of my father in relation to my mother, especially within the context of the last years of his life, I've always found it somewhat... problematic to think of them as a "happy couple," and not just because of his condition. I have no doubt that they cared for each other. They had their arguments, of course, but I don't ever recall them having serious fights. By the same token, though, throughout my life, I saw little in the way of displays of affection between them. They weren't cold around each other; they'd laugh, share stories, that kind of stuff, but I never saw them kiss or even hold hands affectionately.

Is it a symptom of age? I've always suspected so, but I'm not sure. There's one couple I know who are both in their 60s. They've been together for well over a decade, and I've seen them together on a number of occasions. Same thing: they're warm with each other, but it seems more like a good friendship and not a romantic one.

When my mother had to take care of my father's physical needs, she did so, tirelessly and with little complaint, but if I were to be honest, it always felt to me more like she did it more out of a sense of duty, obligation, as opposed to love - which i not a bad thing, in and of itself, of course. I know she wouldn't have gone to such lengths for anyone else, and she did her job damn well.


There's this notion that I see in lots of movies and other storytelling forms that with time comes an ossification in a marriage, that the more familiar one becomes with a spouse, the more the life supposedly gets drained out - and yes, you and I both can think of exceptions. It's an idea I've discussed before: we long for that perfect someone to share our lives with, but when we do, we eventually get bored with them, or at the very least, the spark of life in the relationship is dimmed.

I dunno. Maybe it does have to do with age. I don't wanna become physically disabled to the point where others have to take care of me. My father was able to get some enjoyment in his twilight years, but it was mostly the passive kind: watching TV, having friends come to him, etc. He rarely took the initiative and chose to get out of his bed, into his wheelchair and out into the world. I think after a certain point, he was resigned to his fate and accepted it, the same way some couples resign themselves to a long-term relationship. Love may not die, but I think it can wither, like a plant, over time if it's not fed...


...which brings me to the movie about the waning years of a relationship, defined by love itself. I was pretty eager to see Amour because of the mountain of hype behind it. I knew it would make me think of my parents, and I figured watching it may prove difficult. Well, I was right on that score...

... though not for the reason I expected. This movie is long as hell! Why did it mean to be so damn long, especially when there were so many scenes of people either sitting around watching or waiting or staring into space? I swear to god, one of the first scenes is something like five minutes of a static shot of a concert hall audience listening to a performance - in other words, one audience staring at another!

Also, something about the direction made me feel slightly detached from the story. It had nothing to do with the acting, which was marvelous; I just wasn't able to keep the analytical (and snarky) side of my brain from shutting up and accepting it as a story, a reflection of life. Director Michael Haneke goes to extraordinary lengths to achieve a sense of realism. We see Jean-Louis Trintignant tending to Emmanuelle Riva's physical state - and I recognized so many of these acts from seeing my mother do them for my father - but we also see things like JLT chasing pigeons around their apartment, including after Riva dies (NOT a spoiler; we see her corpse in the very first scene) that took me out of the film altogether. 


Still, I don't wanna sound like I'm putting the movie down. It's quite good, and it made me even more aware of the profound differences in the way movies are made in America and in Europe. It's no wonder that Hollywood chases the youth market as fervently as they do. In the main, we don't wanna see old people dying in movies. We don't want such vivid reminders of our mortality, unless it's leavened with comedy (like in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) or glamor or even action. Amour doesn't even have a score!

Of course, you couldn't tell that to the Forum crowd I saw it with. I got there about forty minutes early because I knew the ticket holders line would be long and I wanted to be inside in the lobby, not outside on the sidewalk in the cold! When the previous show let out, there was a throng of people exiting the auditorium that didn't seem to end. Periodically, I looked up from my book and kept seeing people passing by. I didn't think there was that much room in all of the Forum!

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