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LTCI Watch: Amour (with spoilers!)

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I got to see Amour, a film about Georges and Anne, a husband and wife in Paris who must face long-term care (LTC) issues, yesterday in Manhattan, at a very arty arthouse theater known as the Film Forum.

Sony Pictures Classics, the distributor, began showing the film in “limited release” in December, to get the film qualified for the Oscars. The strategy succeeded: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the America’s Health Insurance Plans of the movie business — has given Amour a best picture nomination; a best actress nomination for Emmanuelle Riva, the actress who plays Anne; and a nomination for best director for the director, Michael Haneke. Haneke also wrote the script.

Some reviewers say Amour is similar to Volcano, an Icelandic film I had never heard of before, but, honestly, for me, it’s really the first film I can remember seeing that really focused on LTC issues.

Amour is a beautiful, quiet, intense, cool, intellectual, claustrophobic film. It’s obviously not a great film for people who want to see spaceships and car chases, and it’s also not a great film for anyone who wants to see a nice shots of the Seine, of streets in Paris, or even the insides of a doctor’s office, hospital or nursing home in Paris.

The real star of the film is a beautiful apartment set that is said to be based on Haneke’s own parents’ apartment. The ideal viewers for this film would be people who watch the International House Hunters show on HGTV and wish the shows would give viewers more time to look at the kitchen sink.

The Film Forum itself is across from a nursing home. It tends to attract the kinds of elegant, intelligent, meticulous, affluent people who look as if they’re a live version of a great Manhattan LTCI lead list.

When I saw Amour, the theater was full, and the moviegoers seemed to enjoy the film.

Online, about 80 percent of the reviewers praise the film. Most of the reviewers who give the film low grades admit that they are criticizing it more because of their discomfort with the focus on LTC services than because of any particular fault with the film.

If you really want to go to the film just to enjoy it, and you don’t want me to spoil any of the film at all, please stop reading when you get to the “next page” button. My advice would be: If you’ve enjoyed other quiet, classy French movies and think you might like to see one about LTC services, see this one. What have you got to lose?

If you want to book the film into a theater in your town and organize a screening party for 100 of your best long-term care insurance (LTCI) prospects, please read page 64 of the script carefully before you put down a deposit, and think about how people in your market would receive the action described on that page.

The plot of Amour hinges on a series of paralyzing strokes that Anne suffers.

Some have suggested that Anne suffers from Alzheimer’s. As far as I can tell, she eventually suffers from aphasia — difficulty with saying what she wants to say because of the strokes — but she never shows clear evidence of suffering from dementia.

People who spend their time thinking about caregiving and LTCI might find the caregiving scenes to be much less daring than they had expected.

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Some reviewers have suggested that Haneke is sadistic for, for example, showing what a hard time Georges has with helping Anne off the toilet after Anne has suffered her first stroke, and showing how a nurse goes about diapering Anne after Anne has suffered a second stroke.

Haneke shows a wet bed in one scene. He shows a nurse diapering Anne in another scene. But he shows a lovely, clean diaper under a clean, bare, normal looking haunch. The diapering scene is not going to be all that horrific to anyone who has ever actually changed a diaper.

Anne’s nightstand gets a little more cluttered as time goes on.

As Georges focuses more and more on caregiving, and managing home health aides, his apartment gets slightly messier. He leaves a few things on the kitchen table. Toward the grim, dramatic conclusion, you can see that the brutality of existence is crowding in on Georges because he has left a plate and a wine glass next to the sink without immediately washing them. But, reality can’t be too grim, because there never seems to be a speck of dust on the furniture in the living room or a dust bunny under the piano.

I think the biggest challenge with using this film in connection with an LTC planning education effort is that, aside from the problems that (spoiler!!!!) some might have with cool, subtitled French films, or the problems that some might have with the late-life care approach described on page 64 of the script, Haneke never says much about how George and Anne are paying for Anne’s home care.

Haneke dares to show Anne going to the bathroom, and getting a diaper put on, but he never dares to explain whether Georges and Anne are paying the aides with money from a government program, from private insurance, from savings, or from use of home equity.

In one scene, Georges pays a home health aide 800 euros and wants 20 euros in change. Maybe that’s supposed to be a sign of financial suffering. But Haneke mostly covers financial matters with a modesty curtain.

The two exceptions are in scenes with Georges and Anne’s 50something daughter, Eva.

Eva has a distant relationship with her parents, a shaky relationship with her husband, a distant relationship with her own two children, and weak finances. While her mother is preoccupied with other thoughts, Eva talks about low interest rates. To the mother, and, apparently, to the filmmaker, Eva is being rude.

To me, it seems as if, whether Haneke noticed the grimmest LTC planning angle to Amour or not, the character with the real problem in the film is Eva.

Eva’s parents get to go about the business of aging in a romantic, New Wave Cinema fashion, in a luxurious Paris apartment, with no apparent concerns about which credit card is full. They can whine endlessly about the terrible, awful choices confronting them.

Eva might or might not get something from selling her parents’ apartment. Unless she gets plenty, it seems as if the ultimate, unspoken conclusion of the movie is that Eva’s broke and alone and seems to be unlikely to get to old age having any classy French existentialist choices, unless she commits to starting to prepare for her own retirement and LTC costs today.

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