Amour & Side Effects: The end of life as they know it

With the upcoming release of A Good Day To Die Hard in a few weeks, a film whose very notion is about not dying if you’re a bald, middle-aged American protagonist, and the dual Zero Dark Thirty/Django Unchained presentation currently screening, films about the hunt to kill one (or multiple) particular individual(s), Amour plays as the mature elder statesman to all of these. It is the scholar at the back of the school hall, tut-tutting as these other films exchange dick jokes under a barrage of gunfire.

The latest release from Michael Haneke, and a wave of relief considering the soul-crushing previous White Ribbon, concerns the final days of an elderly couple Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanualle Riva in fantastic form). They’re firmly in the upper shelves of society class, spending their free time outside of their spacious inner-city French apartment at concert halls featuring friends and family that pay them generous visits later in the film. You can imagine them being a power couple in the gone days of their youth, speaking wildly and obscenely intelligently about classical music and the new wave of French cinema (their heyday!).

amourposterAmour is a film that seemingly precedes no other. I’m yet to recall a similar film of this nature that would have an audience of more than fifty pretentious college kids watching a private screening of an underground print found in the annals of Luxembourg in 1962. It plays in retaliation to the Hollywood mindset of love – physical attraction consisting of abs and big tits/kiss in the rain/wedding/fin – that suggests if an un-cut version existed, there would be another hour consisting of post-honeymoon life where the two ended up hating each other and divorce was the post-credits sequence. If you’ve ever watched a Haneke film in your life (and if you haven’t, start with this) you’ll be well aware he’s one of the most intelligent filmmakers currently working today and because of this his films are often striking, subversive, visceral, etcetera.

At the risk of listing spoilers (though if you have grandparents you’ll already know) Haneke sends Georges and Anne through a life of hell. Anne suffers a stroke early in the film that paralyses her entire right side. Georges, a “monster” of a man with a heart solely for her, fusses over her to the point she has to tell him to go away and leave her be. It raises the question of how far would you be willing to go for the person you love and although Haneke raises a horrific argument in reply, it is something that sticks with you for weeks afterwards.

side effectsIf we’re talking finality then Side Effects plays alongside rather neatly. There are no old, wrinkly people to speak of (rather a more photogenic cast); this plays as more of an exercise in the finality of careers/social lives/freedom. It’s also Steven Soderbergh’s final contribution to cinema, if the rumours are to remain true, and it’s a solid piece to go out on. Like Amour it’s about the end of a certain life(style) however these guys get their retribution scene

It is also incredibly difficult to talk about without spoiling. Jude Law is the psychiatrist Dr. Banks who is assigned to Rooney Mara’s Emily Taylor, a young woman whose husband has just been released from prison for insider trading after four years. She comes across as a manic-depressive and has recently attempted suicide. Banks, in all of his wisdom (she’s so pretty!), decides she’s cool and signs her release form from the hospital. From there everything goes downhill then uphill then side-to-side and back again.

Soderbergh’s final cinematic features have been solid films and are very much entertaining but for all of his hits there are so many ‘okays’. He’s never quite reached the upper echelon of filmmaking that he would love to exist between but he hasn’t gone out on a whimper either. Side Effects, like Magic Mike and Contagion before it, operates as a small independent feature with a series of talking heads that have the feel of a college kid shooting for film credits. It’s always been a pet hate, as the camera exists not as an insight into the lives of these people (Amour) but as a recording tool and nothing more. It’s as if his whole filmic universe of late is within the sordid sex tales of Graham Dalton’s videotape collection – recorded solely for documentation with little insight.

As good as a film it is, one can’t help feeling if Jude Law were to be re-cast it would drop a couple of notches. He’s the standout performer of the whole cast and has been on a small run of late, considering his sole enjoyable performance in the boring Anna Karenina. And in this final sentence let it be said that Emmanuelle Riva should have won the Oscar.

Nicholas Brodie – follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire