Let’s feel sad.
Amour is another Michael Haneke film (so you know I love it). We follow retired music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) as they deal with love and responsibility after Anne suffers from a stroke.
I don’t see many romance-tragedies, and this is largely due to not many being made. How one is meant to approach this film might be confusing. Since it is Haneke, you know it will be unblinking and leave you with more questions than answers, but you also probably expect there to be some romance—something he isn’t necessarily known for. The soft moments of the film and the tenderness between the to make Anne’s rapid health decline more impactful.
Early in the film Anne says she does not wish to go on as she knows how this will end. Georges refuses to hear her, and for a time, things seem to improve. Anne giggles when she is able to move in her electric wheelchair—and we want to cheer as her independence is reasserted. A lengthy scene of her slowly walking (with Georges support) indicates progress can be made.
However, as with most neurological issues, the progress is temporary, and Anne continues to decline until she can do nothing without help. The reality of the situation slowly sets in for Georges and for us as the viewers. The indignities Anne must suffer are things we likely face (either being the aid or the one needing help) in our lives.
Georges promises Anne early that he will not simply hospitalize her and leave her in a home. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) seems to disagree with this diagnosis, and this leads to tension.
The familiarity (real or imagined) of the situations in the film make it hit the audience in interesting ways. We are witnesses to something we cannot control—ever. The passivity of us as viewers is solidified as Haneke opens the film with us watching an audience watch a piano recital. Events in his films spill forth and we are left trying to put the pieces together (a trait we share with Eva in this film).
While many folks have imagined what it will be like to take care of an aged loved one, Haneke refuses to relent—and shows beyond the basic consideration. In the first third of the movie we are given more close-ups of the actors’ faces, but the camera pulls away more frequently as the film goes. We often see Georges whole body in the final third, and this spatial distance indicates his alienation and isolation from others.
The film offers no answers but demands questions. Issues of assisted suicide, love, responsibility, family, and what one wants in their final moments are all present. The film works as a meditation on the things we push out of our minds and try not to think about until we are immediately faced with it.
In many ways this is Haneke’s most straight-forward film, and I think it would be a good entry point for people wanting to get a look at some arthouse cinema. It isn’t an easy film to watch, and certainly isn’t one to turn your brain off to, but it is masterfully done. There is a sort of permanence to Amour that is hard to describe. Another arthouse director, Lars von Trier, once said that good cinema should stick with you “like a pebble in your shoe.” I think this quote fits Amour perfectly.