“Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.”
Written and directed by Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, Funny Games), Amour explores the relationship between an elderly husband and wife, dealing with the inevitability of the failing human body and the stringent burden that comes with it. It’s a story of, as it’s title suggests, life-long love.
Georges and Anne, two retired music teachers, spend much of their days enjoying the recluse of their inner-city Parisian apartment, occasionally venturing out to be whisked from reality by the engrossing grandeur of concert halls and wine bars. Anne begins to develop stroke-like symptoms of drifting off for minutes on end, unable to converse. When the symptoms gradually get worse – eventually leaving her paralysed down the right hand side of her body – Georges takes it upon himself to care for her like any loving husband would. Time goes by and Anne deteriorates leaving Georges no choice but to hire a nurse. What follows is a distressing deluge of emotional exchanges between Georges and Anne in their day-by-day attempt to live their life struggling with this agonising illness. Georges does everything he can to make life easier for Anne but as the victim she battles endlessly with herself through various aspects of control – or lack thereof. All the emotions are present; acceptance, denial, anger, scorn, pity, heartache.
This isn’t an ambiguous tale. There is no happy ending. We already know this from the opening scene. Haneke never shies away from the truth. He doesn’t tiptoe around the subject or bore us with contrived metaphors aiming to put a smile on our face. From the outset there’s a real sense of claustrophobia. Most of the film is primarily set within the walls of the couple’s apartment so it does feel a little like this is their prison and we’re witnessing their sentence. Amour is harrowing and tough to watch in places. I knew that going in, so much so that I didn’t want to watch it with my girlfriend. But it’s also beautiful too.
Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for a slew of Best Actress awards – including the Oscar – and she won the BAFTA that year too. Deservedly so. Her performance is subtle, gentle, but despite that she manages to have your heart in her hands for much of the film, tightening her grip at will as the film unfolds. While I did love her immaculate portrayal it was Jean-Louis Trintignant that really made the film. Like us, Georges is witnessing the progressive decline of his wife’s health with no prior knowledge or assertiveness of how to cope in the aftermath of such a life changing incident. As dementia sets in, his fears grow, his hope withers, but one thing that does seem to get stronger is his unbridled affection for his wife. Even though he is an elderly man in his 80’s, his tired expressions and lost gazes are that of a man who doesn’t forget the memories of a life lived wholly and unregrettably in honour of his wife’s love. His devotion to Anne right up until the final scenes is tear-jerking.
Amour certainly deserves the credit it has garnered, especially due to the simplicity with which the story is told. Michael Haneke elicits more with silence than many other directors could ever dream of with ten minutes of exposition.
Gavin Logan – Follow me on Twitter