Amour * * * * *
Director: Michael Haneke.
Screenplay: Michael Haneke.
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramón Agirre, Rita Blanco.
Danish director Bille August was the only director to win back-to-back Palme d’Or awards at the Cannes Film Festival (in 1988 & 1992) with his film’s “Pelle The Conqueror” and “The Best Intentions“. That was, until Austrian director Michael Haneke recently equalled that achievement. His first came in 2009 with “The White Ribbon” and he done it again in 2012 with this deeply emotional and profound film that’s been heralded by many as a masterpiece.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are couple of retired music teachers who have been married a long time and are now enjoying life in their eighties. One morning at breakfast, Anne displays some unusual behaviour and becomes momentarily distant without any memory of doing so. It’s transpires that she has suffered a stroke which leads to symptoms of dementia. Georges takes on her care but the very close relationship this couple once shared, is put to it’s greatest test.
I’m not one for giving away spoilers but that decision is taken out of my hands straight away by Michael Haneke. He gives us an opening scene of firemen breaking down an apartment door to find the deceased body of an elderly woman lying on her bed with flower arrangements around her. Following this – in bold letters – the seemingly contradictory title of the film is displayed; “Amour” – or the English translation; “Love“. It’s a powerful opening and from the off-set Haneke shows his confidence by delivering the ending at the very beginning. However, it’s the journey up to this point that’s the real story behind this film.
When we are introduced to our protagonists, Georges and Anne, we are given a glimpse into their daily lives and how familiar and comfortable they are in each others company. It’s obvious that they’ve shared a lot of time together but it’s also this sense of realism that packs the real punch, when the health of Anne rapidly deteriorates.
Set, almost entirely, within the couples’ household, Haneke uses the space and setting masterfully. It’s subtly done but on slightly closer inspection you can see that the house is in slight disrepair much like the failing health of this elderly couple. Despite time being against these people in their twilight years, time also seems to slow right down in their home. Haneke builds slowly and refuses to be rushed. He lingers long on shots and reactions and refuses to use any form of a music score to manipulate or force you to feel. What you witness is raw and uncompromising and rarely is such reality and authenticity captured on screen.
This a profound and honest exploration of mortality and the nature of ageing; the loneliness involved and the humiliation and inability to maintain dignity. It’s heartbreaking to witness the deterioration of an individual and the performance of the Oscar nominated, veteran French actress, Emmanuelle Riva is an astounding piece of acting. Trintignant also puts in some very fine work as the loving husband who finds himself out of his depth and his frustration begins to show in his level of care and compassion.
As is normally the case in Haneke’s film’s, all is not plain sailing. There’s a depth and ambiguity involved. The couples’ relationship with their daughter seems distant and strained and there’s a recurring, symbolic, appearance of a pigeon that keeps entering the household. On the surface, it would seem that this film is simply an honest commentary of flailing health and fading memories but it also operates at a depth beyond this.
A deserved Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. This is sensitive, emotional and deeply involving filmmaking which tackles a part of life that’s rarely touched upon. It’s a beautiful piece of work but also the most devastating love story you’re likely to see.