Director Michael Haneke's simple but striking observational technique results in a moving portrait of a devoted elderly couple in their last months of life.
Michael Haneke just puts the camera down and leaves it there. It sits still much like the audience watching a play or a concert – witness the audience in the long opening shot of Amour – and watches people behave. It’s pretty much always this way with Haneke, an Austrian-born filmmaker who has worked all over Europe but seems to predominantly choose France as a backdrop.
In Amour, an elderly couple, probably in their eighties, both music teachers who are refined and comfortable without being snobbish or wealthy, spend the last months of their lives together. Anne has a stroke at breakfast one morning. She continues to have strokes, slowly declining to a state where she is completely bedridden, incontinent, unable to speak or communicate in any way. Eighty-six year old Emmanuelle Riva, with little to no artifice, articulates this decline with heart breaking simplicity.
George (Jean-Louis Trintigant), Anne’s husband, chooses to care for her himself as long as he is able. He is stiff with age, slightly disoriented, but always passionately devoted to his wife and partner. They have been together a long time and it is obvious that their love for and knowledge of each other is deep and goes beyond language and beyond trust. He understands that she is dying and he knows how she would prefer to do it.
Isabelle Huppert plays their daughter Eve. She is sentimental. She is facile with emotion. She is self-centered and either unable or unwilling to understand the depth of love that her parents have for each other. She struggles from the outside, able to witness their connection but not able to participate or penetrate.
So it is with Amour. Simple images of empty rooms, which will fill with people passing through them then empty again, as we stand, still, merely observing, forced to observe, to see life slowly unfold. Perhaps that is what some people resent: that they are not razzle-dazzle-entertained but are forced to participate by observing and – as usual with Haneke – what we are seeing we do not wish to see. We would like to turn away, but the very simplicity of it, the directness, the honesty, the lack of artifice compels us to keep looking and eventually to see. To see a kind of truth that is hard but is as close to reality as an artificial form like cinema can come to.
It is in the subject matter and the selection of detail and the order in which those details are presented to us that Haneke’s art surpasses. And it does surpass almost all filmmakers working today. Amour has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as in the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay categories. Never before has a film from another country been so nominated.
If you are at a point in life where you realize you are getting old and will die, or have a relative that is older and perhaps dying, then you will recognize everything about Amour and perhaps find some dignity for yourself by experiencing it. Even then it will be difficult. It is very close to the marrow.
Amour opens Friday, February 1st at the Oriental Theater on Farwell.