It was another good year for foreign-language films in 2012, especially given the fine output coming out of South Korea and Taiwan. Plenty of worthwhile films received a strong push at the end of the year, many of which were darlings on the festival circuit and in limited runs across the country.
Two of the most notable foreign-language releases of 2012 were Amour, which won Michael Haneke his third Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Holy Motors, which marked the return of Leos Carax. Both films received excellent reviews and landed on numerous top ten lists for 2012, and it’s no surprise that both of them were among this year’s contenders for the coveted Golden Pterodactyl.
But even with such a strong field, there can only be one.
I missed Amour while covering the New York Film Festival, but I finally saw it during its theatrical run, and it was easily one of my favorite movies last year.
Amour is another masterpiece from Haneke, sitting alongside his other great films like The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher, Funny Games, and Cache. Amour is something of a departure for Haneke. It’s a story about the love between an elderly couple played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, and the trials love must endure after a crippling stroke. In the face of physical decline, mental degeneration, and impending death, Trintignant and Riva deliver understated, impeccable performances that convey how much affection and history their characters have together.
While Amour is Haneke’s most tender film in that regard, it’s also his most brutal. The brutality isn’t the result of other people but the natural aging process. Disease and death will rob people of their dignity, their humor, their memories, and their humanity much worse than anything that’s man or man made. We watch Riva’s life dwindle and Trintignant suffer to keep her alive, and we’re reminded of all the fragile things that even the deepest love can never protect or heal. There is no greater sign of the universe’s indifference to human suffering than staring into the blank face of someone you’d do anything for and realizing that there’s nothing you can do.