18 November 2012
This blog went into a slumber a while ago and that’s mostly due to my new hectic work/school schedule. The simple truth is that I don’t have time to write anymore. And when I squeeze in an hour or two here and there, I seem to lack the capacity to write. Call it mental fatigue, writer’s block … either way, I’m the one to blame for the prolonged radio silence. Despite this apparent lack of temporal and mental resources, once in a blue moon something comes along and compels me to brandish my keyboard (no euphemism there) and type some nonsensical reasons why I like or dislike a film. Amour is one such beast.
Michael Haneke’s new film sees his unrepentant claim to be the most formidable director in cinema. Amour is relatively less stark and more human than its predecessors, but it is no less fascinating. Shot almost entirely in a crumbling grand olde flat, played in large by two giants of French cinema, its minimalistic superficial quality belies the torrential emotional punches it serves throughout its 2-hour running time.
Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges) and Emanuelle Riva (Anne) play two octogenarian retired music-teachers. Happily married for decades, their love for each other has not diminished. Along the way, they have lost their individuality and become one in the truest sense of the word. The only instances where their individual lives are referred to are when one of Anne’s former pupils show up in a surprise visit and when Georges tells Anne storied about his childhood - stories that Anne, incredibly, have never heard of despite all this time together.
Of course all this rosy outlook will have to shatter - and shatter it does when Anne suffers one of the two strokes that will see her slowly and painfully wilt away, while Georges helplessly and lovingly watches on.
Anne makes Georges promise never to take her to a hospital or hospice, regardless of what happens. Georges, through his undying love for the one constant in his life, accepts the consequences. His own frail body as he slowly waddles around the mostly empty flat upon hearing Anne’s painful and continued cries for help makes you wonder which one of the two suffers the most physically. More than once I had to avert my eyes.
They have a married daughter, played by the Cinewise favourite Isabelle Huppert, who is having her own marital and financial troubles with her English husband. Her occasional visits prove painful both for her and her parents. At times she may seem disinterested in her mother’s condition, but her tearful outbursts at seeing her mother’s deteriorating condition shows that she just doesn’t have the mental and physical capacity to look after her.
The shock element and the distance that Haneke usually puts between the camera and the characters (not the physical distance, of course) was absent in 2009’s amazing The White Ribbon. And Amour follows in the same vein. By limiting the action within the confines of the flat, with two notable exceptions, he creates a claustrophobic atmosphere where we see how Georges’s love won’t be enough to save her. Definitely not a date-night film!
Speaking of the two occurrences where the camera leaves the flat, it is important to note their significance (if you allow me to be a little more in-depth in my analysis here … it’s been a while). The film opens in a theatre, the camera facing the crowd where Georges and Anne are waiting for the piano recital of Anne’s aforementioned student. We then follow them briefly into the backstage where they meet the star of the show in a dialogue-free sequence, played to the backdrop of Schubert. From this moment on the perspective changes and the camera is now placed on the other side - the flat becomes a stage and the drama begins. It is not very subtle, but a neat little trick by Haneke.
The second instance is when Georges leaves the flat briefly to find out who knocked on the door just before bed-time. A minor spoiler maybe, but this is a little dream sequence and the moving camera and the alien, even-more-crumbling corridors of their building hints at something supernatural. Couple this with them finding out about a burglar’s failed attempt at breaking in to their flat in the beginning (a genius curveball that is never hinted at again), the outside threats to their idyllic life is merely decorative and insubstantial. The real threat comes from within.
Few directors are able to show such a well-nuanced story with extreme precision.
What does it all mean? Love will not be enough to save someone from dying? Love makes the transition into a new existence more tolerable? Less tolerable? Will the absence of your one true love change your own existence in ways that cannot be remedied?
Whatever it means, it is beautifully shot, expertly-acted, heartfelt and very human - the latter two a notable and welcome traits to Haneke’s output. I cannot recommend it highly enough.