Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sadness on Steroids

Feeling glum about your life?  I invite you to go see the Oscar-nominated "Amour."  You will leave thinking that, compared to the folks in this movie,  your world is Hayley Mills in "Pollyanna" in comparison.

Don't get me wrong.  "Amour" is as powerful and well-made as a film can be.  The lead performances, especially that of the Oscar-nominated Emmanuelle Riva, are nothing short of spectacular.   It's just not easy to take.  Because, at its heart, there is a subject matter that all of us have likely gone through at least once in our lives.

Watching somebody you love die a slow death.

So, you're right to expect that "Amour" won't give you any uplifting scenes.   Yep, no Fred Astaire tap dancing on the ceiling.  Instead, you get a woman whose health is slowly failing.   And the husband who is relegated to helping through it all.

Emmanuelle Riva plays the prospective patient.  She's a former music teacher and has some very famous pupils.  One morning while eating a poached egg with her husband, veteran French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, she starts to stare off into space for several minutes.  Frankly, I do the same when I think about the New York Mets' prospects in 2013, but this woman is obviously sicker than that.  

Surgery for a carotid artery is botched and this precipitates more strokes than Michael Phelps.  Step by step and scene by scene, Riva begins a downward slide that you know will wind up with her death.   Is that a spoiler alert?  Nah.  The story is told in flashback and you see her laid out in the bedroom as the film opens.  The bulk of the movie shows you the pain and anguish for both husband and wife.

Are you smiling yet?

The wife needs diapers, a wheelchair, and probably a damn good undertaker.   The husband is a hero as he tries to acquiesce to her wishes that she not be hospitalized.  There is anger.  There is frustration.  There is slow acceptance of fate.

Towards the last third of the movie, it all hit home for me.

In the last stages of her illness, Riva starts to moan one word over and over and over.  The French word for "hurt."

God, I remember that now.   It was the same with my grandmother.

She had a similar end, although at the ripe old age of 90.  After falling and breaking a hip, she came home but was never the same.  She also didn't want to be in a hospital again.   And did not want anybody but my father helping her.

Effectively, my dad spent the first year of his own retirement as a caregiver.  He was certainly not experienced.  But, he was forbidden from reaching out to anybody else.

So, for a year, I saw "Amour" myself.   The anger.  The frustration.  The slow acceptance of fate.

And, my grandmother would moan one word all day and all night.  I don't know what that word was.  It was essentially incomprehensible.  But it was uttered constantly for the last two months of her life until she ultimately went into a life-ending coma.

When I saw "Amour,"  director Michael Haneke brought this memory right back to me.  And I realized that the plotline of this film likely resonates with everybody.

So, while there are no smiles, there is certainly enough to make you feel, react...and remember when.

Dinner last night:  Bacon and cheese omelet.

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