Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Amour" explores the moral landscapes of eldercare

The film “Amour” (“Loeve”), by Micahel Haneke (“The White Ribbon”)  distills out moral concerns with eldercare about as much as any screenwriter could image.

The film opens with the Paris police forcing their way into the ritzy apartment of two retired music teachers.  They have to open the windows to get rid of stench.  You see an elderly woman, lying, departed on a bed.  My own mother looked like that in the funeral home the next day after she passed away (in 2010).

As the main story starts, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are attending a concert where one of Geroges’s students (Alexandre Tharaud) plays (the piece is a Busoni transcription of a Bach chorale). They come home and find that their apartment was broken into, although little seems to be taken.

The next morning, the elderly couple is having breakfast, and Anne suddenly becomes mute, sitting up, but not answering Georges.  We see all the details of French living, down to the boiled eggs.  She snaps out of it.  But it soon happens again. She begs never to be taken to a hospital or institution, but she very quickly declines.   Forty minutes into the film, Georges is having to care for her most intimate needs. Georges does say that the same thing could have happened to him. 

The student pays a visit and plays a Beethoven Bagatelle.  (I think that any one of several pianist friends of mine could have been cast for this part – just have to join SAG.)  George starts seeing visions of his wife as she was before, playing Schubert.  Soon, the couple’s daughter and son return for visits, reigniting all kinds of imaginable family tensions.
Georges hires nurses and caregivers – on his own, without an agency – and then one of them is just a bit rough on Anne, who by now is screaming every day in dementia.  That sets up a final irony as to how things will end.

There is a friendly pigeon that keeps flying into the apartment, wanting companionship.  Even the bird figures into how it ends.

When my mother declined, starting in 2007, I eventually hired caregivers, from an agency, who went round the clock before the end.  She spent the last four days of her life in a hospice, before passing away in December 2010.  Perhaps I sound cowardly for not doing more “hands on” myself.  I had not volunteered to marry anyone and say “till death do us part” – and I found out that this can be expected of family, “anyway”.

The link for the film (Sony Pictures Classics) is here

It is very unusual for a foreign language film (French – the director is German) to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  The film won the Gold Prize at Cannes.  

I saw this film before a sold-out audience Saturday evening (smaller auditorium) at Landmark E-Street in Washington DC.

Picture: Capital Hospice in Arlington VA, formerly Woodlawn Elementary School.  My mother passed away at this hospice on Dec. 14, 2010.  I attended Woodlawn 1949-1955 as a boy.  

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