Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Michael Haneke’s reputation as a ‘cold’ filmmaker is sorely misleading, and it also represents a misinterpretation of his cinema. Every film of his–as I’ve seen them all–has been emotionally powerful. Of course, he has had a few films that I’m not quite as fond of, namely Funny Games (both the original and the remake) and Benny’s Video, but even those have a strong sense of sincerity. Haneke’s newest, Amour, is perhaps his most widely received so far. But it’s also the easiest film of his to swallow–at least, in Haneke’s universe. Amour, of course, means ‘love’ in French and it suitably takes place in Paris, where an elderly couple is faced with the inevitability of death. This certainly seems like a topic that has been covered countless times in Hollywood, and in various other cinemas around the globe, but not to this extent, or in this capacity. In Haneke’s Amour, dying is accepted as a part of life and there’s no other way around it. He doesn’t toy with us and never once lets us believe that there’s any way around it. There’s just death. It’s not all grim, however, as the love between them is as strong as ever.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are well-to-do, upper middle-class Parisians who are in their 80’s. Their relationship seems no different from that of any other elderly couple. They have a comedic understanding of each other, with the occasional nitpicking that goes on. They love one another dearly, but they also have a funny way of interacting. While their relationship begins like any other, one morning Anne is almost despondent. She sits there, staring at nothing, not responding, while Georges is panicking and trying to snap her out of it. He doesn’t know until she’s taken to the doctor that she has had a stroke. Of course, she has no recollection of the incident. As a result, the right side of her body is paralyzed all the way down. She insists that she needs no help moving around. Georges, like anyone, insists that she is not fine and requires assistance. Trintignant and Riva’s acting is heartbreakingly real. Each moment they share with one another feels palpable. Riva exudes a quiet dignity that is unparalleled.
Dignity is a theme that is explored in great detail in Amour. Haneke’s feelings on old age are entirely unique; they’re also, to some degree, a little subversive—at least in contrast with how society and Hollywood would like us to see death and old age. For those uninitiated, the films of Michae Haneke are always tough. He forces us to see what makes us feel uncomfortable, and on occasion, denies us what we want to see most. In Amour, he has put us brutally and intimately close to their lives. It also makes for an incredibly uncomfortable viewing experience. We are forced to watch Anne struggle to take care of herself, and ultimately arrive at the point in her illness where she is utterly unable to communicate.
If this review hasn’t turned you away, then I’m glad. Michael Haneke is unequivocally one of the world’s greatest living directors, who has repeatedly created masterstroke after masterstroke. His work with Trintignant and Riva is stellar, and their ability to create chemistry that feels both old and refreshing at the same time is unbelievable. Even though it lacks the urgency and visceral quality that his other films possess, he has quite possibly made his most focused and centered work to date–easily Haneke’s most accessible, at least. Though his films are difficult, they have a tender delicacy to their nature that seems inherent in his directorial choices. He never leads us by the hand, nor does he manipulate us with a saccharine soundtrack, Haneke allows us to dwell on life’s complexities, rather than cheating us with simple-minded answers.
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-