February 7, 2013 2 Comments

Michael Haneke’s “Amour” is a quietly unflinching film about the assault on love at the end of life.

Georges and Anne, played by French film icons Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, give riveting performances as a genteel, octogenarian couple forced to battle the ravages of a deteriorating illness and impending death.  Haneke (whose past films include The Piano Teacher, Cache and The White Ribbon) refuses sentimental cliches as he invites us into the couple’s home and then refuses to let us leave.

The opening scene is characteristically Haneke.  Firemen are breaking down the door of an apartment building.  The look on their faces (which they cover with their hands) telegraphs the presence of  a foul smell.  An inner door, taped shut, is broken down, revealing the body of an elderly woman, discolored by death, but adorned with scattered flowers. Who is she?  Next, we are in a concert hall and the camera views the audience from the stage (the camera is viewing us, viewing them).  Who are we supposed to see? (Haneke used this effectively at the end of his film Cache).  Slowly, we will meet Anne (a pianist and teacher) and George as their contented, well-earned lives unravel.

Amour aptly earns its title. It is, above all, a love story.   It is not, as some have superficially called it ‘the feel bad movie of the year.”  Haneke himself has described his film as a story of “how we cope with the suffering of someone we love very deeply.”  His careful framing and long, slow wide shots provide us with a sense of intimacy that is heartbreaking at times.   After the opening concert hall scene, the remainder of the film takes place in their apartment.  The “outside world” which is occasionally represented by visitors–a preoccupied daughter, a grateful pianist protege, a variety of caregivers and a errant pigeon–becomes largely irrelevant to Georges and Anne.  Haneke reminds us of this by visualizing the that outer world–the rest of Paris–in muted grays and whites behind sheer curtains.  Haneke is a master at combining quiet, “real” moments with visual metaphors, so that we are never quite sure of everything we’ve seen, but more compelled by the richness and honesty.  There is no non-diegetic music to guide or relieve us.

Amour has already won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and is one of the rare “foreign” films to be Oscar-nominated for Best Picture.  Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest nominee for best actress.  She is eighty five.

Can such a heart-wrenching film that strips life of its feigned dignity actually be a celebration of love and the beauty of life?

Thankfully, yes.      Jolyn Wagner


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2 Comments to “Amour”
  1. Bruce Russell says:

    There’s a famous example by Frank Jackson, a contemporary Australian philosopher, about a woman he calls Mary. Mary cannot see colors, but she knows everything about vision and light and can identify red and green and blue things, and all sorts of colors, with her color meter. Then one day she gains color vision. For the first time she knows what it’s like to experience red.

    We can THINK about what it’s like to die, what it’s like to have a stroke and lose your ability to move some of your limbs, what it’s like to then lose the ability to speak, to control your bowels and bladder, to be unable to recognize your loved ones, to moan and talk gibberish and call out “mommy.” And we can THINK what it would be like to care for a person we love as she slips away, and then has another stroke and slips further, till there’s nothing left of her except her flesh and bones and the memories you’ve shared. We can THINK how it would be a mercy just to put her out of her misery. Sure, that’s got to be the answer. We’d just let her starve to death or go in and put a pillow over her face. That would be the caring and rational thing to do, don’t you think? It would be just like turning off a light switch. Nothing to it.

    This film is not about THINKING about dying and declining, nor THINKING about caring for a loved one who is. It’s about what it is to EXPERIENCE those things. It’s not about Mary seeing black and white and being able to correctly identify colored things. It’s about Mary experiencing color for the first time.

    The experience of dying can be awful, as it is for the wife. The experience of caring for your beloved as she is dying can be worse, and sometimes much better, as it is for the husband. You can KNOW that what’s best for your beloved is for her to die. So just kill her! It’s not so easy. You might tell her she must drink or she’ll die; you might slap her face when she spits out the water. Doesn’t she understand all you are doing for her to keep her alive? How ungrateful! Shame on her! Or you might remember when you were a kid with diptheria, away at summer camp, isolated from you mother, feeling so alone that you wanted to die. And then in a moment of passion smother your wife to death. Kill her! Some might say murder her! No loving person could do that; only a monster could smother his wife to death! If he was going to kill her, he should have planned a more humane way to bring about her death! She loved you for most of her life. How could you do that to her? You are not a loving husband…some might say.

    But if you want to know what it’s like to love someone, and to die, and to love someone who is dying an awful death, you need to see this film. Up till now, you’ve been seeing things in black and white, but when you see Amour you will know what it’s like to see red.

  2. Amen. Beautifully said.i think Hanekes unflinching efforts are captured by your comments

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