Welcome to the ever-fascinating journey of the cinema of Michael Haneke. When I started writing this review I began by comparing the film with others that Haneke had made… and I got the feeling that this is exactly what I did when I reviewed Caché and The White Ribbon. Somehow I can’t escape my own fascination with how I’ve come to admire this filmmaker’s evolution. Those two films had a great impact on me, and now here it is – Michael Haneke’s first true masterpiece, just as tough to sit through as some of his other films, but immensely moving.
The first time we meet Anne Laurent (Emmanuelle Riva) she’s dead. Police find her body after breaking into her and her husband Georges’s (Jean-Louis Trintignant) apartment in Paris. They find her lying on a bed dressed in black with flowers in her hands; due to the state of the corpse and the odor we realize that she’s been there for a while. We are subsequently transported back to a concert that Anne and Georges attend where a former piano student of hers, now a star in classical music, is performing. They return to their apartment later that night in high spirits; they may be in their 80s, but life is still good. The next morning, Anne suddenly freezes in the middle of a conversation at breakfast and Georges tries in vain to call her attention. Just as he’s dressing himself to go out and look for help, Anne suddenly snaps out of it and has no recollection of what just happened. She won’t let Georges call the doctor… but when she tries to pour herself a cup of tea she’s unable to hit the cup. Anne had a stroke, and it’s the beginning of the end.
Relevant to everyone
Haneke shows just how good old age can be for those who are reasonably healthy and what consequences there might be when your body is failing. The message is relevant to everyone – love may not conquer everything, but there’s no question that it runs through everything that Georges does for Anne, including something that comes later in the film and might not be construed as love by others. Haneke takes a meticulous, slow approach to Anne’s decline and makes us believe in every stage of her illness as she turns increasingly worse, capturing her shame at having to be attended to by others and desire to look back at not only the life she led but also the lives of her older relatives. The irony of slowly turning into a child that needs to have diapers changed and needs to be fed is not lost. Haneke doesn’t spare us any misery – and that goes as well for the grief of those who are close to Anne. Her daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) can’t stop crying when she visits her mother. Georges is more stoic; after all, he’s the one bearing the brunt of the burden. Still, we sense his loss and pain in a brilliant scene that pictures him watching Anne play the piano. Haneke also offers another fantasy, a creepy nightmare that likely symbolizes a sense of being trapped. We feel like we get incredibly close to this couple and the actors certainly do some heavy lifting; both Trintignant and Riva, these two legendary figures in French cinema, offer performances that could be the most challenging of their careers. The film is largely shot in the apartment and Darius Khondji’s cinematography turns it into a place on par with its owners; as they degrade, so does their home and we begin to notice the dust in the corners.
A friend of mine texted me how she instantly after watching the movie called her grandmom. I know how she feels. Throughout the film I kept thinking about two dear relatives of mine who are now in their late 80s but still in relatively good health. Watching this example of how quickly that can change is sobering, to say the least.
Amour 2012-France-Germany-Austria. 127 min. Color. Produced by Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Ménégoz. Written and directed by Michael Haneke. Cinematography: Darius Khondji. Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges Laurent), Emmanuelle Riva (Anne Laurent), Isabelle Huppert (Eva Laurent), Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramón Agirre.
Trivia: Loosely followed by Happy End (2017).
Oscar: Best Foreign Language Film. Golden Globe: Best Foreign Language Film. BAFTA: Best Actress (Riva), Foreign Language Film. Cannes: Palme d’Or. European Film Awards: Best Film, Director, Actor (Trintignant), Actress (Riva).
Last word: “[Trintignant and Riva] spent next to no time together prior to shooting. The three of us met two or three times in Paris over lunch to talk about the project, and Jean-Louis came over to my apartment in Paris one afternoon to discuss the script. In fact, we talked about everything except the script. They’re both very experienced and highly professional actors, and therefore, I assume that they know how to read a script and know how to prepare their part. I don’t rehearse ever with professional actors. When I’m working with children and non-professional actors, I do. But, when you’re working with actors, especially good actors, then I simply ask them to show up on set.” (Haneke, Collider)