By Catherine Jessica Beed
It is stark honesty, masterful structural precision and the unflinching portrayal of the horror of humanity that make Haneke’s films such astonishing portraits of us as humans. In confronting the traumas of reality we enter a dialogue in which we ask questions of ourselves, one of those questions may be about how our lives affect others and what we must do in order to protect those things that remain important to us.
Amour brings about these kinds of questions in a powerfully orchestrated drama in which Georges and Anne Laurent, two retired music teachers who live in an apartment in Paris, have to deal with Anne’s deteriorating condition after a stroke leaves her paralysed on her right side. Although a sombre story ingrained with the fear of the inevitable, underneath this and always present is a couple’s love for each other. In deepest love there is compassion, loyalty and acceptance. It is in this that Haneke’s film becomes involved with the complexity of relationships and the methods of coping with being in such a devastating position.
Amour could be seen as a return to a more minimal Haneke but with the wealth of experience. In a scene where Anne, now unable to form coherent sentences, tries to sing along with Georges as he sings to her, it is at once heartbreaking and comforting to be witness to such an intimate and personal moment. The rather sentimental scenes are not unwelcome here; there is beauty in them and the knowledge that we all feel this fear of growing old with one’s life partner and not being able to help them when life begins to slip away. It is a reminder that death awaits all of us, whether it is sudden or meandering and there will come a time when we must all say goodbye to our loved ones.
Isabelle Huppert plays Eva, Georges and Anne’s daughter, and her infrequent visits and difficult relationship with her father show that there is a distance and perhaps a lack of communication between them and the way they want to deal with what is happening. At one moment Isabelle Huppert’s character asks her father “What happens now?” and his answer is “What happens now is what has happened until now.” He is caring for Anne in every way possible to him, and even there it is not enough. Nevertheless he implies that he will continue with this until the very end.
When the end comes, and we know from the beginning that it is coming, the shock of it is still palpable. It is painful but the pain is not what is at the heart of it. In the end it’s love. Love is everything and beyond everything. What we do for love and how it runs through our lives in such subtle and intricate ways after all the wild infatuations and burning desires have gone, when it comes down to it, at the very root of our relationships, over time we cannot imagine one life without the other.
In Amour’s final moments, Georges imagines Anne as she used to be. They leave the apartment and in this way, in memory, they are together again.
Director: Michael Haneke
Producers: Stefan Arndt, Margaret Ménégoz, Michael Katz, Veit Heiduschka
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramón Agirre, Rita Blanco, Laurent Capelluto, Carole Franck, Dinara Drukarova, Jean-Michel Monroc
Cannes (In Competition): Palme d’Or, Karlovy Vary (Horizons), Toronto (Masters), Telluride (Show), New York, London (Love), AFI FEST (World Cinema)