Note from Nick: We’ll be running content from our friends over at the International Academy of Film and Television in Los Angeles on CHUD, hopefully sharing some new voices and opinions and eventually creating a conduit from the Sewer there and back again. If you’re in Los Angeles and pondering films school, find them at IAFT.net. Here’s Pete Wassell’s take on the Oscar pool, part two. You can read part one HERE.
The Oscars — The Latest from IAFT-LA
by Pete Wassell
Amour: Michael Haneke makes films that test you. His movies are deliberately paced often with gut-wrenchingly long takes. Amour is no different. The story of two octogenarians living together, until one morning at breakfast Anne, played by Emmanuelle Riva, suffers what turns out to be a stroke. The story is about Georges, Anne’s husband, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, taking care of Anne after that stroke. We watch her deteriorate slowly until there is nothing left. All personality and individuality is stolen from her. Though Georges stays by her throughout, the film in large part is about the shame he feels when he finds himself growing impatient with Anne’s constant neediness.
The film works because it makes no judgment, and it paints a picture of undying love that is both tragic and supremely uplifting. I would argue that Amour is a heartbreakingly optimistic and beautiful film, one that aims to capture that sense of partnership, dedication, and ultimately, love. Haneke shoots the film like his others, very minimalistic in its style and camerawork. He lets the actors tell you the story, and Emmanuelle Riva is deservedly nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, one that upon viewing the film I would be more than happy for her to win.
Amour is a film that darkens your heart…and warms it at the same time, one that scares you and makes you cry. There’s a side story concerning Georges and Anne’s daughter and her failing marriage that I find detracts from the real narrative, but is something I can forgive because its juxtaposition to the main story in some ways complements the sentiments being projected through Anne and Georges.
If you want to see love, and if you want to know pain, go see Amour. You won’t be disappointed.
A Footnote: A friend of mine went to see a screening of Caché (Hidden), one of Haneke’s previous films, featuring Juliette Binoche, which had a Q&A afterwards with the director. He told me it was the best Q&A he’s ever been to, full of insight and honesty. After seeing Amour, I wish I’d been at that Q&A.
Life of Pi: I must say, of all the Best Picture nominees this is the one I wanted to see the least, and it had nothing to do with the director, Ang Lee. Brokeback Mountain? Sense and Sensibility? Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? What’s not to love? I remember seeing Crouching Tiger in a crowded theatre in the heart of Hollywood—every seat was taken!—and they gave it a rousing, whooping and cheering standing ovation! The guy makes great films! Movies that are undeniably picturesque and epic in scope. He’s acknowledged as one of the finest actor’s directors we’ve ever had around these parts, a master of detailed portraiture, and he uses it to enliven his characters. A profoundly considered mis-en-scene is the palpable center in his stories, and it always adds intricacy to his films’ protagonists.
The reason I wasn’t chomping at the bit to see Life of Pi is the source material.
Life of Pi, the novel by Yann Martel, is a giant metaphor that slaps you in the face. It’s about a young man, Pi, named after the mathematical constant that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. He’s involved in a high seas shipwreck and sets out on a journey in a lifeboat he shares with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The book is good, but a bit obvious, and I’d been told that the end of the movie is like a big did-you-get it!?-in-case-you-missed-it-here’s-what-we-were-trying-to-say! type of moment.
Well, let me put it this way: The nay-sayers are not right. To put it more succinctly, they’re wrong! This is an amazing achievement, to have taken this material and render it with such loving care and depth. First off, it’s visually stunning, in 3D, and it’s unquestionably the best usage of 3D so far. The overall production design is nothing short of beautiful. And the story itself comes across as reflective but intensely engaging. It’s an active and compelling contemplation of the essence of life and its meaning, the kind of thing we rarely ever get in a Hollywood movie, and in this movie it works.
It’s astounding to me that a film of such emotional and spiritual density would also be so technologically advanced.
Another thing: this movie has both an ocean and animals in it—not just a tiger, although the tiger gets the lion’s share of footage. Listen to this: Every movie ever made that has scenes on the ocean OR multiple scenes with animals goes over schedule and over budget. Every time! It’s practically a law of nature. (Think Jaws.) Yet this movie has BOTH ocean AND animals, and Ang Lee managed to bring it in on time and under budget. A singular feat in and of itself. And in 3D, no less!
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know the scenes with the tiger are extraordinary and memorable. Yet it was recounted in The Hollywood Reporter that some 86% of the tiger shots are CGI, with only 23 shots of a real tiger in the whole movie. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I read that. To me, it looked like 100% of the tiger shots were of a real tiger. I found myself wondering how they got that big roaring cat to do those things.
And on top of it all, the movie has become a world-wide hit, returning a tidy profit to its investors.
So take my word for it. It’s one of those films you have to see in a theatre. Don’t wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray. It’s Ang Lee, for Pete’s sake! It’s well worth your time and dime.
Stay tuned for Pete’s last review of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture. Zero Dark 30 is last in the line-up. Soon!