BFI London Film Festival – DAY 1 (Part 2)

Amour movie poster 2012 emmanuelle riva michael haneke palme d'orFollowing screenings of The Sessions and Frankenweenie come two foreign language offerings that both know how to make an impression…

Amour (***)

After seizing the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes, everyone wants to know whether Michael Haneke’s emotionally charged Amour can go all the way to the Oscars. It follows Georges and Anne, a cultured, octogenarian couple whose lives are turned upside down when Anne suffers from a stroke that paralyses one side of her body. Georges must become her full time carer, but is tested by Anne’s swiftly deteriorating mental state.

Fans of Haneke will already be aware that the director has never been afraid of silence, and Amour shows no sign that he’s in any rush to fill the long pauses and contemplative silences that pierce much of the movie. As one might expect, this is careful and considered filmmaking that in one instance feels dull yet the next creeps up on the unassuming viewer with an image or moment of great poignancy.

Amour’s narrative spoke particularly loudly to me as my own grandfather has recently suffered a similar fate as Anne, with my grandmother acting as his carer much like Georges does here. In this respect the steady deterioration of Anne’s character felt incredibly genuine and very well written and acted. Emmanuelle Riva gives a bravura performance that reaches to the bones in its authenticity and raw power. Likewise Jean-Louis Trintignant matches her efforts playing Georges. His evident love for Anne placed in contrast with the frustration he feels at the fate she suffers is a tough but really quite magnificent thing to behold.

It is perhaps for this reason that I so strongly disliked the film’s ending. For all of its early authenticity the conclusion Haneke gives these poor characters feels somewhat sensationalist and to a degree even conventional. It plays like a cheap emotional shot that sits in complete contrast to all of the careful storytelling that has come before it.

All things considered, Amour is still the undoubted frontrunner for this year’s Foreign Language Film Oscar. It features a pair of powerhouse performances from two of France’s finest veterans, and when on form is a deeply moving experience.

Wadjda (***)

Wadjda 2012 screenshotFrom Saudi Arabia’s first female film director comes Wadjda, a vivid and fascinating story about a young girl who dares to challenge her nation’s strict beliefs. Played by Waad Mohammed, Wadjda is a charmingly defiant protagonist who wants nothing more than to own a bicycle like the boys her age do. Of course riding a bike is not a suitable pastime for a respectable Muslim girl so the scene is set for Wadjda to challenge the conventions put in place by her religion, and followed so scrupulously by her society, school and family.

Writer-director Haifaa Al-Mansour has put together an amusing yet thought provoking feature, that touches on a number of big topics, yet never quite gets under the skin of any of them. This wouldn’t be such an issue should Wadjda not follow in the footsteps of last year’s A Separation, which rewrote the rulebook on Middle Eastern family dramas, and exposes this as being comparatively shallow and not nearly as layered as it should be.

Perhaps this comparison is unfair but it’s a natural contrast that many will make. On its own terms however Wadjda is still a worthy film. It possesses superb narrative flow and is well paced, with a steady stream of lighter moments delicately sewn into the wider drama. Performances are also strong, particularly from the younger cast members, making this a pleasant and surprisingly easy watch from a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to flag up important issues.