Film Review – Amour
Even without context, the opening moments of Michael Haneke’s Amour are among the most harrowing and unforgettable he’s ever put on screen. That may seem daunting for those familiar with his previous work (Funny Games and Caché among others), but there’s a poignancy here that even his most accomplished work sometimes lacks.
Georges and Anne (semi-retired French cinema pioneers Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) star as retired music teachers well into their 80s. We’re introduced to them via a beautiful POV shot from the stage of a former pupil’s piano recital they’re attending. They return home to their villa in Paris to find evidence of an attempted break-in. Neither seems especially concerned or worried, and their shorthand when discussing what action to take gives us a sense of just how well they’ve come to know each other in the last several decades as a couple. The following morning over breakfast, Anne lapses into a catatonic state mid-conversation. After an agonizing couple of minutes, she comes to, with no recollection of the incident having taken place. Upon Georges’s insistence, she visits a doctor and undergoes surgery on a blocked artery. Complications arise and Anne is partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. In the blink of an eye, Georges finds himself in the position of caretaker.
Despite her debilitation, Anne still proves to be sharp as a tack, using her newfound time in bed to catch up on books and learn stories of Georges’s childhood that had somehow gone un-discussed up to this point. Her stubborn determination to walk on her own again is both empowering and heartbreaking as she begins to discover just how physically dependent on her husband she’s become. Georges remains sympathetic and reluctantly agrees when she makes him promise not to take her back to the hospital. A second stroke then occurs, leading to complete immobility and a general lack of coherence. Devoted to the promise he’s made, Georges continues to care for her at their home, employing nurses to come and assist.
Haneke has a reputation as a cold and sometimes cruel director, and his refusal to soften the edges of devastation here are readily apparent in every scene. That said, I found Amour to be a profound and endlessly moving depiction of love. Some reviewers have referred to the title as ironic, and I can’t help but wonder what movie it is they were watching. While it’s certainly uncomfortable to watch a man bathe and spoon feed his once-capable companion, I can think of no truer signs of devotion. Visits from their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) prove more grueling than helpful, as she selfishly tries to make her mother’s ailments about her, and a hired nurse’s needlessly mean approach to Anne prompt Georges to (rightfully) fly off the handle. In spite of such frustrations, though, Georges remains steadfast and diligent, refusing to go back on his word.
Once things start to move towards their inevitable conclusion, Haneke switches to a more overtly poetic approach. It’s wonderfully handled and circles back to the film’s opening moments quite beautifully. There is arguably one shot too many as it all comes to a close, but I seem to be in the minority there. I felt the film could have more seamlessly faded out on the scene prior, but will have to see it again to be sure. Not that I intend to any time soon. Amour is sometimes unbearable in its stark take on mortality, and while repeat viewings have always proven eye-opening to me when it comes to Haneke’s work, it will most likely take me a while to muster the courage. Amour will stick with me for some time to come, though, making it one of the best and most memorable filmgoing experiences of this year.
Final Grade: A