Written and Directed by Michael Haneke
Anne and Georges are retired music teachers enjoying the fruits of their labor, visiting former pupils who have excelled in their craft. They have a tense relationship with their daughter Eva and her English husband, but it’s not bad. Life is a beautiful natural thing. Then one morning Anne goes silent during breakfast, unresponsive to Georges’ pleas. She comes to after a moment, but the couple seeks out the opinion of their doctor. It turns out that Anne suffered a stroke, and her body will slowly degenerate as a result. We watch as Anne goes from being a vibrant, joyful octogenarian to becoming a person who is losing both their physical abilities but additionally the faculty of their mind. Georges is ever dutiful taking care of his wife and making a promise never to send her off to a home, but to keep her in their home.
You don’t typically associate director Michael Haneke with films about love and devotion. He’s often criticized for making films so neutral and cold that the audience finds it hard to connect with the characters. That is, of course, his intent in those movies, to place the audience in a place of non-judgment so that the feelings the characters evoked are not manipulations of the director. Amour presents a very different sort of Haneke film, yet still very true to his philosophy as a filmmaker. This is a poignant and honest love story that never descends into maudlin sentiment. The love between George and Anne feels painfully real, and the challenges they face are not sugarcoated. The path they have chosen in the wake of the stroke is a difficult one, and there will be moments of breaking for them both.
I have to applaud the work of actors Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant who play Anne and Georges, respectively. Riva performs the slow decay caused by strokes so honestly, seeming fine and a little tired at first and by the end of the film showing her body stuck in a tensed stricture, her mouth unable to form coherent words. You see the depression and anger and finally the peace she has when Georges, trying to comfort her while she utters a gibberished distress, tells her a random story of being a child at summer camp. Earlier, when she still has some motor functions, she asks to look at a photo album over breakfast, and you can see the longing and pained nostalgia in her eyes.
Trintignant’s role is just as challenging but in a different manner. While Anne’s pain is very open for the audience to view, Georges has to create layers that hide his distress. He is also in his eighties and therefore the care his wife needs it causing physical and emotional harm to him over time. This pain is ignored because Georges is so devoted to Anne’s needs. Haneke does show us moments of cracking, particularly when Anne refuses to drink water, silently choosing to starve and dehydrate herself. Georges forces the straw in her mouth after a quiet struggle, and when she spits the water out on herself, he impulsively slaps her across the face. This is a selfish hurt; he doesn’t want to face life without Anne and doesn’t want to allow himself to be honest and confront her suffering. Existence without Anne isn’t an option in his mind, but it is a reality that he will have to face.
Amour is not a movie that seeks to upset the audience, but it has no interest in creating false narratives about the reality of aging. This is a piece of cinema that is entirely devoid of cynicism, exuding infinite love and truth. We should not be surprised that this came Haneke, all his films, even the most biting and violent exist as a statement on the ugliness that life can bring and how vital holding onto love has been and always will be.
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