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“Amour” amazes at Toronto International Film Fest – AWARDS

By Sean O’Connell Day One of the Toronto International Film Festival is almost in the books. Three movies down, one more to go. (And that one has Kristen Stewart in it … do you think it will draw a crowd?)

The festival officially “opens” Thursday evening with a screening of Rian Johnson’s “Looper” (which we reviewed earlier today). But here are some snapshot reactions to the rest of the films I’ve managed to see so far.

The Who’s lyrics resonate deeply following a screening of Michael Haneke’s “Amour” – I hope I die before I get old.

Perhaps, then, I’ll be spared the grief and heartache associated with dying – feelings and experiences that are personified with gut-wrenching precision by Haneke’s two spectacular actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, in the powerful “Amour.” She plays Anne, a doting Parisian wife and former piano teacher who’s stricken with a debilitating illness. He plays Georges, the dedicated spouse who does what he can to help his beloved endure the hardships of mortality with the same dignity she brought to life.

The unflinching “Amour” captures a loving couple’s last days with documentary-worthy realism, nailing the frustrations, struggles and small joys that often come with the caretaking of a loved one. We have yet to see anyone challenge death and win, so the ending of “Amour” is written in stone (so much so that Haneke opens his film with the revelation that Anne has died). The rest of the film allows the couple to reflect on how they lived, and to demonstrate how an illness in the family extends beyond the afflicted to affect everyone.

It’s difficult not to project your own personal experiences onto the screen while watching “Amour.” The situations presented by Haneke are far too realistic not to see ourselves (and our loved ones) as moving parts in this difficult story. During one emotional scene, as Georges fights to feed a stubborn Anne just so that she’ll live a few days longer, I started thinking of all the people I’d do that for, and the ones I hope might do it for me. That’s love.

One cannot say enough about the performances delivered by Riva and Trintignant in service of Haneke’s grim study. They’re mesmerizing in these complicated roles. Riva, particularly, embraces the fear and loathing one can feel when their mind and body begin to fail. If the awards system doesn’t fail, it’s possible I’ve just seen the first Oscar-worthy performance at TIFF 2012.

“Rust and Bone”
Here’s a fun fact learned at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival: Katy Perry’s pop hit “Firework” contains a subliminal message that prompts killer Orca whales to lunge at human trainers, potentially paralyzing them from the waist down.

OK, so Perry might be innocent of this charge, but the song is integral to Jacques Audiard’s Cannes drama “Rust & Bone,” my first official film of TIFF ’12. It’s during said song that whale trainer Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is attacked, losing her legs following a painful surgery.

But “Rust & Bone” isn’t necessarily about Stephanie. It’s more the story of Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a single father fending off poverty and struggling to provide for his son, Sam (Armand Verdure), as they run from something the boy’s mother might have done. Or maybe it’s the story of Ali’s sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero)? Or is it about the underground mixed-martial arts circuit the aggressive Ali enters – with Stephanie by his side – so he can earn money and make ends meet?

“Rust & Bone” is disjointed. That’s being generous. Audiard and his screenwriters take us down so many unconventional avenues that when we reach the destination, we appreciate the eccentric journey – one that involves an Orca attack, an underground MMA circuit, and Cotillard booty-texting Schoenarts every time she wants to have handicapped sex.

Strip away the film’s eccentricities, though, and you’ll find a soulful, tragic story about physically and emotionally broken individuals helping each other to heal. Honest portrayals by the talented cast sell it, and the digital effects used to remove Cotillard’s gorgeous legs are flawless. By the end, “Rust” cast a spell over me, but man, did it take nearly the entire length of the film for me to figure out what it was trying to do.

Read more of our exclusive Toronto coverage:
Rian Johnson’s “Looper” reviewed
TIFF: The Day Before the Madness

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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One Comment

  • September 7, 2012 | Permalink |

    I take it that you didn’t like Cotillard’s performance or not so Oscar-worthy as you said for Riva and Trintignant?

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