Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Plot: Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva) are in the eighties and still happily married. Their zest for life remains uncontested until Anne becomes seriously ill and suffers a stroke. Georges is left to wait on her hand and foot, with daughter Eva (Huppert) occasionally checking in, and wonders if life for the both of them is still worth living.
Michael Haneke’s films regularly revolve around the subject of division – concerning matters within the film or outside of it. With Amour the prospect of people impressed by it is quite high whilst the notion of them enjoying it will likely be low. Amour scrupulously examines an elderly couple’s companionship and love with the frightful prospect of one of them becoming horribly ill. The film emphasises on themes such as care, devotion and doubt, never once pardoning itself for looking closely at matters of moral ambiguity. It leaves you extremely deflated by its end, to a point where the lingering silence felt throughout the film blurs into its aftermath (you can count on unadulterated silence from the audience once the credits roll).
Haneke always invites his audience to think deeply over what he examines and whereas that can sometimes be obscure (such as The 7th Continent, Funny Games and Benny’s Video), Amour is the most immediate film he’s ever written and directed. Georges and Anne Laurent are a couple that have grown old together yet still feel invigorated by one another’s company; it takes one catatonic attack and subsequent stroke that truly tests their love. It is a universal story made particularly relevant by brushing over the taboo subject of euthanasia. Anne’s slow deterioration (masterfully portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva) and her husband’s dedication at keeping her as healthy and happy as possible (Jean-Louis Trintignant outstanding in the role) is a haunting tale that despite being painful and upsetting to watch at points, finds itself to be a stirring cinematic experience.
Starting his film career at the age of 46, Haneke always came off as a mature director (both for his age and the content of his films) and Amour unequivocally supports that impression. He is not a director recognised for bravado but rather meditative forms of story-telling that do not impinge on the story; Amour is his most solemn look at the human condition. So blunt and simple is Haneke’s approach to a story like this that it involves you on a level more than you’d think possible. When Haneke’s trademark static shot gets implemented for scene it enforces you to be attentive, giving you more chance to sense the pressure of Anne and Georges’ life. As the film takes place in a Parisian apartment for almost its entire run, the feeling of immobility and confinement (that Georges and, specifically, Anne are suffering with) is overwhelming. Haneke’s constant choice to leave out a score may not always work wonders for the atmospheres he creates in some films, but with this it is a triumphant decision. The diegetic sound of the apartment and mostly that alone, adds to the desolate mood, compelling you beyond regular filmic strategies.
Another great from Michael Haneke yet maybe his most disconcerting and alienating film to date. Chances are, Amour will generate a bigger audience than any of his other films but that will also bring about audiences unfamiliar with his style who will not be expecting such a slow and distressing illustration of this subject matter. A very depressing film – adding to the fear in all our hearts about the fragility of the human mind and body – but one that is commendable through its sophistication and inspirational thanks to its humanism.
****By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms