I finally caught up with Michael Haneke's Amour last night at the Curzon Soho, the first unquestionable masterpiece I've seen in the cinema since Des hommes et des dieux*. Let's first dismiss the Oscars nonsense, written up with a touch of saeva indignatio by the marvellous Matt Wolf: I haven't seen the other 'competitors' in the Best Actress category, but it was absurd that the unsparing, unsurpassable Emmanuelle Riva, just turned 86 when she arrived in Los Angeles, should walk away empty-handed. Actually she should have been up for a joint award with the equally remarkable Jean-Louis Trintignant (pictured with Riva above and below), her loving husband of the watchful gaze in the film. But who cares?
I can't add much of value to what my colleague Emma Simmonds and the first of her commentors write on The Arts Desk. The film is simply note-perfect (well, except in the very minor detail of the right arm placement above hands which we don't see on the piano keyboard - sometimes in the wrong area of the instrument - which is odd, since a very, very fine pianist, Alexandre Tharaud, appears in the film as himself). Having had the humiliating experience of watching Haneke's Hidden from the back row of the Gate Cinema Notting Hill, and not seeing the crucial detail in the tableau at the end, we sat in the front this time and were enveloped by every detail of the old couple's flat in which, after an unforgettable early scene in a concert hall, the film entirely takes place. I wept very nearly uncontrollably when Trintignant's carer tries to get his love to drink water - no more details needed - but came out feeling not exactly purged but clear-headed, almost serene.
Comparisons are odious and probably unnecessary, but I couldn't help wishing my idol Ingmar Bergman in his last film, Saraband, had asked as much of his senior couple, Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann (pictured; the Fårö post relevant to all this, one which as I think I've written before is closest to my heart, is here). Actually the scenes between them are very touching, but on a first viewing I found some of the old self-disgust packed into the father-son dialogues melodramatic and the handling of music in the film slightly clumsy alongside Haneke's unstinting truth and his less theatrical take on performing artists.
On the other hand, Amour is rather like those earlier Bergman masterpieces Wild Strawberries, Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata (Ingmar and Ingrid, no relations and no great friends, pictured above) in that it puts you through the mill and leads you by the hand whole and perhaps a little wiser out the other side. The difference is that you can argue about what you liked or didn't like in Bergman; whereas I should like to meet the individual who finds anything to challenge in Haneke's work of real, honest genius. How amazing that films like this, without any music other than that played in real time, should still be made.
I've been using the word 'flawless' quite a lot over the last couple of weeks: it's also applicable to two concerts I reviewed on The Arts Desk within six days of each other: a brilliantly programmed one by Edward Gardner conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and another which was simply electric all the way through - despite the challenges of Bloch's not-so-great Schelomo - thanks to conductor Thomas Dausgaard and a simply stunning cellist I've not heard before, Jian Wang (pictured below by Xu Bin).
Double-checked with BBC Radio 3 folk to make sure the cello wasn't miked; from where I was sitting in the hall, the sound was the biggest I've ever heard emanating from that instrument, but so refined. Here's the man I need in order to pay attention to every note of the Bach cello suites. What a happy coincidence with Bergman to find so inward and low-vibrato a performance of the Sarabande from the Second Suite (there was bags of vibrato, incidentally, in his hair-raisingly intense Schelomo, as you would expect, so it's a question of adapting the style).Both film-makers would surely be moved by this, though the Sarabande of Bergman's film is the one from the Fifth Suite.
*If we're including comic masterpieces, and why not, then Julie Delpy's Two Days in Paris qualifies. We soon caught up with the sequel, Two Days in New York, and laughed almost as helplessly in places, though it's such a loss that Delpy's mother died when the filmmaker/actress had already planned out the film, an event which made her change course. The enlarged role for the nightmare sister with an awful boyfriend in tow to some extent fills the gap.