Amour is the latest film from Austrian writer / director Michael Haneke. Like many of Haneke’s most successful movies, such as Hidden and The White Ribbon, it is set in France rather than his native Austria and features a French cast. Amour is a small-scale, claustrophobic film, set almost entirely in a single apartment “ that of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). This couple are in their eighties and are retired music teachers. At the beginning of the movie we see them going about their daily lives and they give the impression of two lives inextricably intertwined, comfortable together in a familiar routine.
That routine is torn apart when one morning Anne suffers an attack that turns out to be a stroke. Paralysed down one side, she grows increasingly reliant on Georges due to her loss of mobility. From here, there is a feeling of inevitability about what will happen next “ the course of their lives has now been set. It seems that this will be a simple, poignant story drifting to a sorrowful ending. At this point, the title (˜Love’ in English) seems to be a statement “ that this is love, the merging of two lives, caring enough for someone to look after them when they can’t look after themselves, to pick them up out of sodden bedsheets when they lose control of their bladders. It could be a criticism of Hollywood portrayal of romantic love with its focus on the thrill of first love between beautiful young people.
However, this is a Michael Haneke film, so the simple, poignant story morphs into something slightly different, something a bit more ambiguous, that doesn’t provide the emotional catharsis that the audience might have expected, but which is more thought-provoking and challenging than that story would have offered.
Treating as it does the uncomfortable issue of the inevitability of ageing and death, and the possibility that in that process we will lose so much “ our memories, our sense of self, our dignity, Amour is nobody’s idea of a rocking fun night out at the cinema. It is, however, a powerful movie, exploring unflinchingly a subject that many may not want to consider too much. The nuanced performances of two terrifically experienced actors, ably supported by Isabelle Huppert as the couple’s daughter are perfectly pitched and add to the piece’s power.
The difficulty of the subject matter will probably put a number of people off going to see Amour, which is a shame as in other ways, it is one of Haneke’s most accessible movies. Sometimes criticised for his obliqueness as a writer (he writes all his own scripts as well as directing), Amour is one of his more direct films, and though it poses questions of the audience, that main question isn’t ˜what was that all about?’ as might be the case in other movies, Hidden for example. Added to that is the fact that the film is thoroughly absorbing and possesses a strange kind of gracefulness.
There are very few plaudits Michael Haneke has not received, and more are certainly on the way. Already a multiple Palme D’Or winner, he will surely go down as one of the finest directors of his generation, and Amour will take its place as one of his finest pieces of work.