|Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuel Riva in Michael Haneke's Amour|
**** out of ****
I doubt myself as a critic greatly when I see a film like Amour. When dealing with a film which uncomfortably faces one with some of life’s most difficult aspects and offers no sensationalism or escape -aside from the knowledge that the movie will eventually end- it is a tough pill to swallow. This movie didn’t make me feel good but I will report to all that it is a great movie.
Amour is about an elderly married couple whose long, loving companionship is interrupted one day as the wife becomes catatonic while sitting at the kitchen table and returns to consciousness minutes later as if nothing happened. An unsuccessful surgery and series of strokes follow, rendering her helpless and unable to function as her husband devotes himself to her care every step of the way.
Michael Haneke has made a very important film here, which portrays the decaying years of life as a time that requires great strength and no reward. For those unfamiliar with the writer/director’s work, it should be known that he is very anti-sensational. Those who view movies purely for escapism have no business seeing his films.
Stylistically he is minimal to the point that he doesn’t seem to be visually driven - but he definitely is. His choices are often a simplistic no-nonsense approach and at other times, mysterious. One of the film’s early scenes takes place at a piano concert where the performer is not seen because the camera is pointed at the audience -completely framed in one shot. I must note the power of sitting in a movie theater while looking at a screen containing another audience as though they are watching me. In this particular audience, I made out where the two stars of this movie were sitting and had my eyes fixed on the small fraction of the screen they possessed. Was this the intended purpose of the shot? I don’t know but it did something to me. What’s really strange is that this is the only setting to be seen outside the apartment, which will be the setting for the rest of the film.
The couple are played by veteran actors Jean-Louis Trintignant (from Bertolucci’s The Conformist)and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, mon amour), both of whose work in this film conveys astounding realism and delivers the sense of physical and emotional suffering which looks beyond the will of most actors, particularly young ones. The film is just as much about the repressed pain of the husband watching his long time love gracelessly fade away, as it is about the wife unable to express herself or find the strength to comply with her husband’s efforts to keep her alive.
On occasion, their daughter, played by Issabelle Huppert (previously in Haneke’s The Piano Teacher), drops in and becomes more upset at her mother’s condition with each visit, desperate to find some way to help a situation that cannot be improved.
Amour realistically displays an aspect of life everyone will go through: Helplessness. There is nothing pleasant in seeing the pain that follows a life of love and devotion. I think it is a film that will have the strongest effect on those who have dealt with pain similar to what is portrayed in the film. It is the power of emotional recognition that makes realistic movies like this important. Me? I felt a sense of resistance and dread while watching “Amour.” I have yet to experience such pain in real life, while I am totally aware that it will come to me some day.