Thursday, 28 February 2013

Haneke, Bergman and last rites

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.


David Damant said...

"A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn"

David said...

From Coleridge to La Rochefoucauld: 'old age is a tyrant who forbids, under pain of death, the pleasures of youth'.

Bergman's lines, in that linked blog piece, are a little more nuanced.

Henrietta said...

Great piece. Feel jealous about the EG concert. I just loved Amour. I was not depressed at all. I thought it was such a tribute to their love for each other. I completely believed in them as a couple. She was so moving but then so was he. Watchfulness is just the right word. His walk, the wanting to be in control and then losing it as he hears her playing on the CD and then sees her at the piano. Fabulous when he got angry with the patronising nurse.

I liked the way that although she was his love Haneke did not make their relationship untroubled. He had obviously had an affair with someone else and she was a bit distant but they were completely together.

I also thought Isabelle Huppert was marvellous as the daughter - difficult, scratchy with the parents but genuinely desperate. Okay, she had been married to Geoff for thirty years and still called him Goff so no wonder their marriage was in trouble.

I always thought Saraband was a self-portrait - Bergman at his crotchety best with a messy trail of complicated relationships behind him.

David said...

You think 'Goff', I thought it was 'Joff': but whichever, maybe another tiniest of false notes...funny to think of Shimell as a handsome young Don G to Lesley Garrett's Zerlina at ENO all those years ago (1986, to be precise).

I didn't pick up on the hint about the affair.

David Damant said...

One does not have to be young and handsome to play Don Giovanni - look at Raimondi in Losey's film.Entirely convincing. And remember the 2065 ( is that right?) - though I am ready for someone to claim that that doesn't take all that many years

Thomas Allen played the supper scene well - his body language combining the physical shock and the mental strength

David said...

Even so, the first Giovanni, Luigi Bassi, was, I believe, only 19. Young and arrogant should work best, especially if he's the same age as the other young people.

Raimondi was fab, though the Losey film is a bit overwrought (alongside my golden mean, Bergman's Magic Flute). I saw him at Covent Garden with some inferior ladies - not great. T Allen I also caught there a couple of times, and he had rather a lot of trouble with 'Fin ch'han del vino' on the last occasion.

Another connection: Haneke's first opera production was to have been Don Giovanni. Instead he followed Mortier to Spain and his Cosi fan tutte has just opened (and been filmed). Abbado wanted him to do Wozzeck after seeing The White Ribbon.

Susan Scheid said...

I didn’t want to comment on this post until I’d seen Amour myself, which I did this afternoon. I thought it clear-eyed, accurate, and for lack of a better superlative, brilliant. (I would say, though, that the one place where the film, for me, dodged clear-eyed accuracy was at the very end.) I sometimes blithely state that there is nothing to commend the process of aging. This always gets a laugh of recognition (and relief) from my mother and a good many of my friends. But in reality, the statement, while blithely put, isn’t blithely meant. I don’t look forward to this, in whatever role(s) I find myself, but what I know for sure is that my turn will come.

David said...

More anon on that, Sue, but just to say that I am in a rather more optimistic mood about ageing, having floated away from Liza Minnelli at the Royal Festival Hall (I'm up so late because the Arts Desk review HAD to go up around midnight). The woman nearly died from encephalitis in 2000, and was told she'd never walk/sing/speak again. And here she was, shedding the years as the set moved on. No allowances needed. Phenomenal.

David Damant said...

The late Queen Mary, of Victorian vintage and definitely of the old school, found that one of her Ladies in Waiting ( they were of aristocratic lineage, and of similar age) was suffering from rheumatism. " The effects of old age, Ma'am, are really inconvenient" said the Lady. " Inconvenient !" replied Her Majesty " Inconvenient !!! - They are Damnable !"

[ But as someone 76 on the Ides of March I have to say that one has no trouble sorting out authoritarian waiters in smart restaurants, where as a young man one used to tremble]

David said...

Yes, I myself have trembled as you berated a not especially authoritarian waiter in the Travellers' Club.

As for birthday zones, you are in good company: Liza, fellow Piscean, will be 67 on the 12th. And my dear old ma will be, let's say, somewhat older than you on the Ides.

Susan Scheid said...

David D's comments remind me of my friend B., now 87 (thus putting all of us here in the shade age-wise). Our nick-name for her is B. "Goddammit," arising out of the many stories we can tell of that ilk.

Here's one: Just this week, we were meeting for a concert, and she arrived through a revolving door. The young whippersnapperess behind her pushed to hard and nearly threw Barbara over. Not missing a beat, B. turned around, wagging her finger at the young thing, and gave her the what-for right there in the lobby. (B. was perfectly right about the problem, of course, and, as she has advanced osteoporosis, not to mention just recently out of the hospital where she had a serious operation, we're all glad she didn't take a spill.)

I, however, trembled, because I had to let her know of another problem: one of the tickets for the three of us I'd ordered online hadn't registered, the concert was sold out, and all that could be done was stand-by for the third. She started to march over to the desk to take that one on, too. I stopped her, for I knew nothing could come of it (having already taken it up in my bit less Goddammit-ish, but nonetheless firm way). Fortunately, B. decided all would be OK, let it go, we did get the standby ticket, and all was well. B., BTW, watched Amour without flinching. (I wasn't with her, but she told me about having gone.)

So, yes, hale and hearty and full of beans is a fine way to be as you get older, and I have many friends in their 80s who are fine examples--not one of whom has escaped serious problems, but all of whom, so far, have lived to tell the tale and continue to relish life.

But the offer is time limited, and when you or someone you care for starts failing, and it becomes clear that, this time, there's no turning it around, I don't see anything to particularly commend the experience. It's simply one foot in front of the other through to the end, making the best of it you can. (Much as Trintignant expressed to his daughter in the movie.)

David Damant said...

As Alfonso the Wise said in the 13th Century "Had I been present at the creation of the world I would have had changes to suggest"

wanderer said...

As Bette Davis said - old age aint for the faint hearted.

David said...

Sue - three of my most treasured City Lit students died aged 87, 94 and 98 respectively. All were coming on the bus/tube until they no longer could. Trude Winik went into decline fairly quickly after she'd bought her close friends two boxes to see Don Carlo at the Royal Opera (I repeat this, but I always remember her saying to the taxi driver at the end, as he tried to strap her in with the seatbelt, 'you can strangle me now, I've had my evening'.

Elaine Browmich, the most elegant of theatrical costumiers with a racy past (always talking of her lovers), finally ended up not seeing and hardly hearing in a home for two years. She never wanted me to visit, and she wanted to die (she'd said, 'if I can't come to the classes any more, I don't want to live'. And she meant it).

Martin Zam remained cheerful to the last, but again didn't want visits in the home where he spent the last year of his life. All three were great examples not of how to grow old with your wits still about you but how to be a great and timeless human being.

David and Wanderer - Many more aphorisms where those wise 'uns came from. Me - pace Liza, who was a tonic to us all - I'm sticking to 'I'm still here', and might just go off to hear Cleo's performance of it now.

Susan Scheid said...

Love these comments, she says as she hums along to I'm still here . . .