Before I begin this one, bear in mind what I have said previously about not being a reviewer. I have no valve that prevents me from giving away essential plot elements or other content. In fact, I'm just proud to be able to say that I saw them and that they stuck in my memory! Come to think of it, if the passage of time has allowed my memory of this film to evolve into something that didn't really happen (it has been almost two days since I saw it, after all), you'll just need to roll with that, too.
The first impression came with the opening credits. No music. It's kind of shocking in our over-produced world, where every ounce of emotion is wrung out of us by exploiting all of our senses. In fact, it felt like there was no score, but that music was used to portray music in the film – we hear the music when they go to a performance, play a CD or get their former music student (now a successful pianist) to play for them in their home.
Their home! I'm so looking forward to the meeting I am going to in Paris in a couple of weeks, not only for the content of that meeting (which will be both interesting and important), but for the feel of the city and the kinds of buildings and living quarters one finds there. Now, I'm not likely to be rattling around an apartment as huge and beautiful as the one inhabited by the characters in this film, but I will imagine myself to be passing by in the street below. It's really lovely.
So what is this music-challenged film in a beautiful apartment about? The wonderful, dignified, aging, loving couple who are going about their day-to-day lives, appreciating the things they have loved over their lifetimes, thrown a curve ball by the deterioration of their health and all of the consequent problems that can bring.
Immediate physical challenges of caring for a spouse who is now partially paralyzed, with support from the state that is limited (three visits a week by a nurse) and with the challenges of what other available help can bring (the scenes with the hired nurse are frightening and uncomfortable). We can see the caring getting more difficult as the husband begins his own decline in capacity – and, as my companions noted, it is odd that several recent films have, like this one, focused on the husband caring for the ailing wife when the reality is generally the opposite.
We also see the frustration of maintaining that loving dedication to the well-being of the other when the physical effort of it is so huge (and growing), the capacity to do that is on the decline and the rewards diminish with the ability to communicate and even the will to live of the other. And apart from the challenges of it, there is the embarrassment of having lost capacity and independence, and not wanting others to see that, no even one's own children. It's all very real and not very happy.
We knew from the beginning that it wasn't going to end well, as the opening scenes were of police opening up the apartment by force, then the sealed room, and finding the body of the wife, sprinkled with flowers and arranged in bed. We are led to how that came to happen, and then we are led to draw some obvious conclusions about where her husband is. My own observation at the end: she killed him back. But you'll have to see it yourself to see what that means.
I'm not by any means a cinematic professional, but I dearly hope that Emmanuelle Riva walks away with the Best Actress Oscar. She really succeeds in portraying that decline in physical capacity and loss of ability to communicate that we all fear, while communicating extremely well through minimal facial expressions and small actions. It's truly remarkable.
And I think that we will have to go see something mindless and/or funny next time out because this was not very spirit-lifting, even if it was beautiful and well done.