Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke's French-language film Amour was released in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, just days after it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
It was splendid timing for the movie which has received an endless stream of superlative critical praise ever since it won the top prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival.
But while mature viewers and dedicated cineastes have been lapping the film up in its local release, I have anecdotally perceived definite disinterest in many cinemagoers.
I'm always being asked for movie recommendations, and at the risk of sounding like a pompous ass, it's fun to try and push art house, indie or foreign movies if I think they are palatable to a wider audience.
Amour follows two octoganarian music teachers living out their retirement in a Paris apartment. After the wife suffers a stroke, the husband must adopt the role of carer and her condition worsens.
"Oh that's the film about the old lady dying? No thanks." is the type of response I generally encounter when attempting to foister Amour upon an unsuspecting advice-seeker.
Amour's reputation is that of a "worthy" film. It's not difficult to see why general audiences may not be interested - it has the reputation of cinematic cod liver oil. Good for you, but hard to swallow.
But I strongly believe that most people would enjoy Amour if they gave it a chance.
So at further risk of ass-pomposity, and wholly embracing the irony of defending a universally-acclaimed film, I am now going to lay out a five-point argument for seeing Amour aimed at cinemagoers who might otherwise not be interested.
1. It's never a chore
I've read many reviews of Amour that applaud the film but warn that it's a "difficult"; "painful" and "hard to watch". I disagree with this assessment and it's been depressing to see so many critics re-inforcing the view of the film as an arduous slog while ostensibly recommending it.
While there may be a dearth of explosions or pratfalls, I found the movie to be extremely watchable. There's a directness and a confidence in the drama that carries Amour along with a grand feel that supercedes the surface mundanity of what's on screen. I never once stopped to consider how entertained I was - I was too caught up in the lives being presented to me.
Most of the film takes place in an apartment, but it's all shot with a masterful technical precision that makes every composition something to behold. Haneke loves to sit on a shot for as long as possible - I find this to be an incredibly effective way drawing the viewer into the reality of a film. It forces you to be present with the characters.
2. It's uplifting, not depressing.
Amour has been too readily dismissed as a film about death. The name of the film is "Love", not "Death", and that comes through emphatically. Although death plays a role, it is the love between the two main characters that dominates over any other aspect of the film.
The genius of Amour is that it's addressing something innumerable other movies have extolled, but it's doing so with an emotional palette that makes it feel newly profound.
The strength of the partnership between the two main characters is nothing short of inspiring. It buoys the film.
3. It paints a welcome portrait of retired life.
My beloved Coronation Street excepted, modern film and television appears to have little interest in portraying the elderly as complex characters with any kind of internal life.
One thing I loved about Amour is how it painted a well-observed and relatable portrait of the central characters' daily lives as retirees. It's a portrait that comes a little unstuck once the bad stuff starts happening of course, but I really appreciated how their lives never came across as empty or depressing. They carried themselves as two people who'd lived rich, full lives.
The quiet vibrancy of their characterisation only makes subsequent events more heartbreaking. In a good way.
Plus these 80-somethings are French. So they're much more attractive than a lot of on screen old folks.
4. It's not as icky as you think
The logline conjures up images of TV movies about disease that wallow in the undignified suffering of their characters. Although Amour doesn't shy away from the realities of the condition endured by the wife character, it does so with a degree of classy austerity that stops short of rubbing our faces in the griminess of it all.
Plus I was so invested in the characters by the time this stuff occurred, I was willing to go any place with them.
5. Everybody should see at least one Michael Haneke film.
Amour's writer/director Michael Haneke is one of the boldest filmmakers working today. He is a cinematic artist with a unique grasp of how movies can really get under your skin. He films often challenge the viewer, but in a manner that is always stimulating and emotionally rewarding. The works are only difficult to watch in the sense that he's a master of excrutiating tension-building.
Amour is one of Haneke's most accessible films, and less of a thriller than many of his recent works (Hidden; The White Ribbon). But his filmmaking prowess is in full effect.
His direct, declarative style often brings Stanley Kubrick to mind and allows his films to work as both high drama and deep metaphor. He's often accused of being pretentious (there's a hilarious fake Twitter account), but I think pretentiousness is a great attribute for a film director to have. What is film after all, if not artful pretense?
I often view his films as movie-length Twilight Zone episodes, a description that could very much be applied to Amour. Seriously.
Haneke is at the forefront of modern auteur cinema, and that comes through in every frame of Amour, don't let the opportunity to see this masterpiece on the big screen pass you by.
Seen Amour? Do you think it's for everyone? Has this blog inspired you to see it? Do I come across as a pompous ass attempting to educate the idiotic masses? Because that was my goal.