Capone's Art House Round-Up with the Oscar-nominated AMOUR and the documentary SOMEWHERE BETWEEN!!!
Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…
Many of the films of the controversial and inspiring filmmaker Michael Haneke are about facing fears. Whether it's the characters in his works (such as THE WHITE RIBBON, THE PIANO TEACHER, CACHÉ, or both versions of FUNNY GAMES) facing their own fears, often by walking head first into them; or audience members facing their fears. But with his latest award-winning work AMOUR, Haneke may be giving us his best example of the 70-year-old writer-director facing what terrifies him the most: growing old. But he examines the topic through the eyes of a couple in their 80s who truly love each other and would do anything to stop the other's pain.
There isn't much by way of a story with Amour. We're introduced to the couple--Georges and Anne, played by two French acting royals, Jean-Louis Trintignant (Z, THE CONFORMIST, A MAN AND A WOMAN, MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S) and Emmanuelle Riva (HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR)--living a comfortable life, going through each day with a sense of routine, bordering on the mundane, but they seem content. But rather than simply slipping into their lives peacefully, Haneke has a prologue featuring the police breaking into the couple's home. A feeling of dread begins to creep into our thoughts before we're taken back several months to quieter times.
For admirers of Haneke's work, AMOUR may feel strange in its initial sweetness. There are touches of his more confrontational style here and there at the beginning--a front door lock has been tampered with, for example--but he largely keeps the proceedings tepid for a while. Then during a breakfast conversation, Anne simply freezes; Georges panics and runs from the room for help, but when he returns Anne is back to normal with no memory of the pause.
Before long, however, that moment seems like a silly glitch compared to what follows, when a full-scale stroke hits Anne rendering her partially paralyzed and in full-scale dementia, with a terrified Georges trying to help her maintain some level of dignity--an impossible task under the circumstances. With their love comes a level of understanding about what must be done, which doesn't stop Georges from trying as hard as he can to see if there are any signs of the old Anne in her twisted shell of a body. Initially he enlists the helps of a caretaker, but that doesn't work out. And the couple's utterly selfish and ultimately useless grown daughter (Isabelle Huppert, who absolutely nails her character's false sentimentality) essentially refuses to help or even come visit regularly.
For those younger readers out there, if the idea of seeing a film about the wretched process of growing old seems unbearable to you, I recommend you look at Amour as a horror film, and I say that only slightly joking. Haneke spares us nothing from the reality of taking care of someone who has lost all ability to take care of themselves or even communicate their needs. There's one sequence where Anne simply repeats the slurred word "hurts" in a muffled scream, and we don't know if she means she's in physical pain or if the totality of her condition is the focal point of her suffering. It's one of the most difficult scenes to watch in a film filled with such moments.
But as much as AMOUR is about suffering, it is also about devotion and mercy, to the point where that might actually be the ultimate point of the whole experience. In the end, the film practically places these virtues on an altar and makes them worthy gods to worship. Some may be turned off by the final act of Amour, but it should seem almost inevitable (hell, the opening practically tells you what's going to happen) to most. This magnificent work is likely destined to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar it was nominated for this week (and I believe one of the actors has a real shot as well), and I for one would be so happy to see Haneke accept his long-overdue award.
The phenomenon surrounding a person who is adopted deciding whether or not to track down their birth parents is one that has haunted public policy and the law for decades. But imagine if the option of tracking down your parents wasn't available to you because the government and adoption agency conspired to keep the birth parents' names a secret. Welcome to our increasingly complicated relationship with the People's Republic of China, a nation that, in the late 1970s, passed a law that families could only have one child. What resulted from this policy were hundreds of thousands of unwanted baby girls who were simply abandoned on the streets or at orphanages around the nation of 1 billion souls.
In the years that followed, families from all over the world (including a healthy number from the United States) started adopting Chinese babies (almost all girls) to the point where there is an entire generation of teenage girls in America, born in China, many of whom are wondering where they came from and why their parents didn't want them. Director Linda Goldstein Knowlton begins SOMEWHERE BETWEEN describing a bit about the process of her adopting a Chinese baby a few years ago, but expands her scope to profile four teenagers, all of whom have excelled in school, and each feeling to varying degrees the urge to travel to China and meet their birth parents. In some cases, these girls are the only Asian kids at their school or neighborhoods. Each grapple with a certain amount of stereotyping (a couple even refer to themselves as "bananas"--white on the inside, yellow on the outside) from their peers as well as abandonment issues.
Knowlton has a real gift for getting these girls to talk about being a product of and torn between two worlds, an issue that becomes a source of sensitivity as they get older. I was particularly fascinated and inspired by one girl who does make the journey to the Province from which she was adopted and practically stumbles over her birth father within an hour of putting up posters announcing her search.
During the course of this quite moving work, we learn that there is a movement in the world to halt international adoptions (for reasons I was never quite clear about), and there are organizations/support groups of young Chinese women that meet around the world to discuss their unique situation and shares experiences of searching or finding birth parents. There are few touchy subjects left untouched in SOMEWHERE BETWEEN, a film that does not shy away from discussions of race, gender and national identity. The one girl who seems the least interested in finding her parents believes that she is where she is for a reason, and that these are the parents she was meant to have. It makes perfect sense that there are those that feel this way, but there's something in her eyes that says she isn't being totally honest. This is a quietly devastating, intimately realized film that gets 2013 off to a great start for documentaries.
-- Steve Prokopy
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