Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winning latest is beautiful, humane, and terrifyingly truthful. Amour reaffirms Haneke’s status as a master of modern cinema.
We are first introduced to George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) at a well-attended classical performance by one of Anne’s ex pupils. They are a pair of married octogenarians, who have lived full and satisfying lives as music teachers. The paintings, books and records that line the walls of their grand Parisian apartment tell of a sensuous engagement with the world. They are cultured, intellectual, alert to the richness of their surroundings. Their deep connection is movingly conveyed through a discreet tactility.
One day, however, Anne begins to act strangely. She zones out and becomes disorientated. Georges awakes in the middle of the night to find his wife sitting upright in the bed that they still share, staring into the darkness, seemingly unaware of what she is doing.
A series of strokes have triggered the onset of dementia and paralysis. After over 50 years of marriage, George and Anne suddenly find themselves facing uncharted frontiers of intimacy. George must pull up Anna’s underwear after she goes to the toilet, change her diaper before bed and feed her like a baby, wiping away spillages with the scrape of a teaspoon along her lip.
In the wake of Anne’s decline, the long-established dynamic of their marriage must be renegotiated. This leads to a kind of re-courtship; the couple experience shyness and embarrassment as they make the uncomfortable transition from husband and wife to carer and cared for.
The central performances are incredible. Jean-Louis Trintignant masterfully conveys inner sorrow through outward denial. In her most diminished state Emmanuelle Riva is heartrendingly expressive. All her mental and physical powers have departed her, but she is somehow totally aware of all that she has lost. Her expression is totally vacant, yet grief flickers in her eyes.
Amour is filmed with a series of long, still shots that make no apology for the bare reality of things. Haneke’s camera lingers on lined faces, body-parts contorted by paralysis and rooms that echo with bleak unspoken truths.
The title of the film ironically invokes the sentimentalities of love. Hollywood-style love is only a problem when it is unrequited; its powers of healing and resolution are otherwise unlimited. In Hollywood, love is a gooey centre around which happy endings assemble themselves.
Here, Haneke unflinchingly shows love’s brutality– its irrationality. In Amour, love is everywhere. It’s at the heart of every motivation: it’s the basis for anger, exasperation, hatred, care, the desire to mercifully end life and the irrational impulse to preserve it at all costs.
This is a frighteningly astute rendering of the final stages of life. It is true, compassionate filmmaking of the utmost seriousness and quality.