Amour Is a Bore

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Michael Haneke’s Amour is a nice movie to have seen, but a very annoying one to watch. The movie is gratingly slow. With its stationary camera and long takes of an old married couple (Jean-Louis Trintignat and Emmanuele Riva), one of whom suffers a stroke and begins a slow demise, the movie demands silent reflection. About halfway through the film, my reflectiveness gave way to boredom, then torpor, then annoyance, then, by the time of the minute plus take of the husband cutting and washing flowers in the sink, my horreur was such that I devolved into trichotillomania just to feel something.

In short, I do not possess the inner resources to enjoy this movie.

I understand that to dislike Amour on the grounds that it is slow is to admit to the grossest American philistinism. Americans, so the stereotype goes, need speed and plots and gore and sex and everything fast. Europeans are content with a fluttering, extraneous pigeon doing nothing of import (as featured, twice and at length, in Amour). Apparently, Europeans have such deep reserves of intellect that they can draw some interesting meaning from the most enigmatic, opaque, and inert movie. The pigeon, you see, represents the ever-burgeoning, chaotic renewal of nature intruding upon the staid and routine life of the man with the dying wife. Maybe. But I was sure wishing the old man would blast the pigeon with a phaser. Pew! Pew! Pew!

There is interesting slow and boring slow. There is the slow of a Sunday morning languor with a lover, delicious, mysterious, and sweet. There is the slow of the dated-magazine and Muzak hell of a waiting room, dull, mind-numbing, and tedious. In cinematic terms, Andrei Tarkovsky’s films are the former; Amour is the latter. Tarkovsky’s images are engaging and the slowness a part of their beauty. For instance, this sequence from The Mirror is slow, to be sure, but also contains a j-horror-like intensity and an unusual beauty.

For all of the ill-will the movie created during the purgatory of the viewing experience, Amour did grow in my estimation upon reflection, when I could conveniently forget the aimless emptiness of many of the scenes. The subject matter, realistic aging, illness, and death, is so rare and the performance by Riva so well done that Amour is, paradoxically, a meaningful memory to contemplate while at the same time being an utter bore to actually view.

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Best Pictures is a short series about this year’s Academy Award-nominated films.

Jonathan Gourlay is an editor at The Bygone Bureau and author of the ebook Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years on a Micronesian Island. He lives in the quiet corner of Connecticut where he is a vicarious goat herder. Follow him on Twitter.