Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Running Time: 127 mins
Release: Nov 16th
About a third of the way into Amour, Georges (Trintignant) tells his wife Anne (Riva) about a time in his childhood when a film stirred such strong emotions in him that even recalling the story to a neighbour made him cry. He doesn’t remember the details of the film, or even the name, but he remembers the emotion. That is the story of Amour. Long after the details have passed, anyone who has seen it will remember the beauty of love, and life. They will also have bore witness to a terrible, crushing, brutalising sadness, of a sort so incredible and powerful it has a beauty all of its own.
That is the strange question we’re forced to ask by Amour. Is beauty inherently sad, or is sadness beautiful? Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner has both in spades, but it’s hard to address one without the other.
Georges and Anne are both music teachers. Anne suffers a stroke following an operation. She makes Georges promise he will never again make her go to hospital. He commits himself fully to her care, no matter how hard, or degrading, or embarrassing. Then begins the slow but inevitable decline of the woman with whom he has shared a life. It’s one thing to be aware of mortality, another entirely to see it played out in front of you, and that’s what Haneke presents his audience with.
Aiding his presentation are two wonderful performances. Emmanuelle Riva plays Anne with an inexhaustible spirit that is as distressing as it is touching, due to the precipitous decline she goes through as her body begins to give up on her. She is brilliantly partnered by Jean-Louis Trintignant, whose performance allows Georges’ love to shine through every frown, every—very rare—smile and every tired shuffle. We don’t know much about their lives, but we don’t need to; we can give them characteristics as we see fit.
Haneke’s camera remains static for the most part, but shows vividly the horrible reality that arrives when a life is coming towards its end. For this he could be chastised, as he’s dangerously close to wallowing in the human misery that death is a neighbour to. We see Anne’s physical and mental decline in close up, and it is harrowing. But we also see Georges care for his wife; and in his care we see everything; pain, loss, despair, frustration. Mostly though, we see love. We see tiny shared moments and painful individual ones. We see two whole, shared lives through the lens of their ending, and it’s the saddest and most beautiful thing I’ve seen all year.