Featuring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Huppert
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
2012-13 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival season dates:
Somerville 25 February–3 March, 8pm Joondalup Pines 5–10 March, 7.30pm
Reviewer: rolanstein (one-word verdict: masterful)
Retired music teachers George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are in their 80s. They live in an elegant apartment in Paris, and are still culturally engaged and active. When Anne has an aphasic episode and a subsequent operation is unsuccessful, her health begins to deteriorate. As George takes on a care-giving role and Anne becomes ever more disabled and dependent, their relationship and lives enter a heart-rending and testing final phase.
Apart from an early scene in which George and Anne attend a piano recital by one of their now-acclaimed former students, the film is set within the couple’s apartment. Many of the scenes are fixed single-shot, with the camera set back to show both characters in interaction. The subject matter does not make for comfortable viewing, and in confining the action thus, Haneke ensures we have as little respite from the dismal reality of Anne’s infirmity and decline as poor George.
As he witnesses the love of his life losing her physical and mental faculties, George is forced to acknowledge and confront a range of often disparate responses and emotions: heartbreak, bewilderment, fear, frustration, anger…
At one point, he loses control and slaps Anne in the face as she lies in bed semi-paralysed and incoherent. It is but a momentary lapse, a giving into self in an almost unendurable enforced marathon of selflessness.
Accompanying the indignities of old age and terminal-phase illness are moments of beauty and love. In some of the most poignant scenes in the movie, George supports Anne as she struggles through her post-paralysis exercises, clasping her like a fragile doll as she moves step by faltering step about the room, her arms draped passively around his neck, cheek on his shoulder. They might almost be slow-dancing in their younger years. It’s sad, sad stuff, almost unbearable to watch, but too compelling – and too beautiful – not to.
And that just about sums up the film as I experienced it.
It takes a great filmmaker to create a profoundly affecting work of beauty and humanity out of material as bleak as this – that’s what Haneke has done. He does not shirk from showing the indignities of aged care and terminal illness, but George rises above this often brutal reality through his devotion and commitment to care for his wife until it becomes impossible. For all the bleakness and misery of the old couple’s situation, above all this is, indeed, a film about love.
Haneke’s brilliant crafting is matched by the two lead performances, which are, quite simply, perfect. That’s a huge call, but I’m making it. Emmanuelle Riva has been nominated for Best Actress at the coming Academy Awards for her role here. While she is up against some worthy competition, it will be an injustice if she does not triumph. Then again, since when have the Oscars ever been a pure measure of talent and worth?
As we were leaving the theatre, we overheard a young member of the audience complaining that she had found it all too slow, adding the disclaimer “maybe it’s me, maybe I’m just tired and not in the mood for something like this.”
After my reflex eye-rolling abated, I thought about her response. I don’t suppose anyone’s likely to be “in the mood for something like this” – which makes Haneke’s achievement in transcending the subject matter to create such a powerful, lyrical and moving film even more remarkable. Further, it occurred to me that perhaps only those who have had some personal experience of death, or have confronted their mortality, will fully appreciate Amour.
Whatever, for me it is the towering standout of the Lotterywest Perth film festival so far and not to be missed by anyone interested in quality filmmaking of the highest order.
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