Released 2013. Director: Michael Haneke
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LOVE? HOW DO WE LOVE in the face of pain and suffering? Amour is a remarkable portrait of a couple who understand with certainty they are spending their last days together. And it’s not a happy ending.
Georges and Anne are in their 80s. They were music teachers and live in a Paris apartment with occasional visits from their daughter. The quiet and contented life for Georges and Anne alters its course suddenly when Anne has a stroke and half her body is paralysed.
Directed by Michael Haneke, who possesses an uncanny touch in his ability to show, rather than tell, Amour is a moving diary of total commitment. Taking place almost entirely within the confines of the apartment, the movie places the audience as silent visitors in the couple’s home, like the pigeons that fly in through their open window. Many scenes are long shots seen through a stationary camera. Haneke wants us to see, and we can’t look away. Sometimes he might make you feel like an uncomfortable guest, but that’s the reality of such situations. We see Georges lift Anne from her wheelchair, or toilet, heaving her onto bed, changing her, cleaning her, feeding her, doing all the things a spouse should in times like these. But Anne’s condition doesn’t improve. Her increasing anguish shows on her face. Her body betrays her. Her speech slurs. She refuses to drink or eat. Anne wants to die.
What goes on is an absolutely unsentimental portrayal of dedication. Haneke’s approach is unencumbered by emotional manipulation. His lean and disciplined direction is one of the reasons that make Amour such a powerful and devastating experience. There are no attempts to add sweetness, silver linings, surprises or plot twists. Its narrative progresses slowly, like Anne shuffling her feet being supported by Georges, towards an inexorable conclusion.
In his direct, unadorned, almost brutal presentation, Haneke actually gives us a beautiful contemplation on the capacity of love and devotion that some people possess. Ultimately Georges decides where his love for his wife should take them both. Some audience may prefer the ending to be different, but its impact cannot be denied and its profound implications and suggestions make you ponder the value of life.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva together give a complementary performance that is breathtaking, honest and challenging. It must have taken them immense courage to be able to give a performance of this degree. I cannot think of another movie about two ordinary lives confronting love and death that is so perfectly executed in a peaceful, understated manner, yet carries such an emotional wipeout.
“Life. So long.”