Considered by many a foregone conclusion coming into tonight, the Academy showed its love for Michael Haneke’s Amour with the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The film was nominated in five categories total, including the rare double bill of a Best Picture and a Best Foreign Language nod (only the fifth film in history to achieve such a feat). Lead actress Emmanuelle Riva, who turned 86 today, was the oldest woman ever to be nominated in the category and would have made further history had she won tonight. Earlier this season, she won the César, the BAFTA and several critics group prizes.
Amour‘s heartrending love story about an aging couple had already won scores of awards before this evening, beginning with the Cannes Palme d’Or when it debuted on the Riviera last May — supporting Haneke in the audience tonight and seated next to Amour producer Margaret Ménégoz was Cannes Film Festival honcho Thierry Frémaux. (Had Amour won Best Picture, it would have been the first film to earn that honor and Cannes’ top prize since 1955′s Marty.) After Cannes, the pic went on to take Best Picture honors from the National Society of Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics, the European Film Awards and France’s Césars plus Foreign Language props from the Broadcast Film Critics, the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Indie Spirits, among many others.
Although it’s in French, has a French cast and was largely financed by France, the film was the entry from Austria based on director Haneke’s nationality. Its road to the Oscars made it hard to imagine things could have gone another way in the Foreign Language category. That’s not to say this wasn’t a rich field. The other nominees — Kon-Tiki, War Witch, A Royal Affair and No — served up some of the best of a particularly strong 2012 for international cinema.
An intimate acting tour-de-force from a respected director, Amour clearly struck a chord with the Academy. The story of a couple facing the end of life depicts a struggle that Haneke has said is a universal tragedy. In his acceptance speech tonight, he thanked Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker and Tom Bernard who acquired the film ahead of Cannes last year. It has so far taken in about $5.25M in 10 weeks of U.S. release. Haneke also thanked his producers, his “great crew” and his wife, about whom he said, “She was a member of the crew. She has been supporting me since 30 years. You are the center of my life.” He gave a further shout-out to Riva and co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant.
Haneke had been to the Oscar party before, with 2009’s The White Ribbon which was nominated in the Foreign Language and Cinematography categories. It had already taken the Palme d’Or in Cannes and had been widely predicted to win the foreign Oscar that year but lost to Argentina’s The Secret In Their Eyes.