Amour (2012) / Drama

MPAA rated: PG-13 for mature subject matter, brief nudity and language
Length: 127 min.

Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud
Director: Michael Haneke
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Review published December 23, 2012

Amour 2012 Michael HanekeAmour starts with the end, showcasing the discovery of a dead woman, long dead enough to evoke a smell in the apartment she resides in, but cared for enough by someone to have been posed and adorned with flowers.

The tale follows, almost exclusively, the final months of that woman, Anne (Riva, Blue), and her husband, Georges (Trintignant, Red).  The couple are in their 80s, living in retirement as music instructors in Paris.  They don't always get along, but they are happy together, still quite affectionate and adoring even after nearly a lifetime together. We see Anne, still quite lively at her age, during the final night of relative normalcy (the only time we see her outside of their apartment) before she would experience her first stroke -- happy, smiling, energetic, and full of life.  The stroke hits, and she stares off into space, not knowing her state, but something has changed.  The doctors do what they can, but she is unlucky, as another stroke hits and she finds the right side of her body paralyzed, rendering Anne unable to walk, cook, or play the piano again.  Prideful Anne wants no more hospital visits, no nursing home, no more people over who are going to pity her, and at times, she just wants it all to end.  The only thing that keeps her going is the care provided by Georges, who caters to her every need, sometimes to her chagrin, though it also agonizes him to no end to see her fading away, both physically and mentally.

Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke (Hidden, The Piano Teacher) writes and directs this look at the pain of aging and dying, as well the sadness it brings to everyone to see a loved one withering away helplessly before their eyes.  What was once their loving home that brought over family, friends, former students, and peers is slowly turning into a mausoleum, as the signs of age and ailing health can no longer be covered over or ignored, and becomes the only topic of conversation that anyone chooses to discuss, often indelicately.  Haneke utilizes static camera placements, sometimes of empty rooms, with lingering shots that evoke the feeling of emptiness, desolation, and lack of activity in the home. 

(Side trivia: the names Anne and Georges (or some variation) are used for characters, usually the leads, of most Haneke-written films, as is the name Eva, the daughter in this film, played by Haneke regular, Isabelle Huppert (I Heart Huckabees, Comedy of Innocence)).

But the story isn't just about someone dying of age.  It's about a lasting love affair between two people.  It's about a journey of life that, like all couples, must meet a conclusion at some point.  While Hollywood movies all celebrate the union of a couple as a 'happy ending', the actual ending of the relationship is anything but.  Even amid the despair, there are still moments of love and affection.  Georges entertains Anne with tales of his youth -- ones he claims to have kept from her, as he remarks that she hasn't heard all of his stories yet.  Anne also shows her love in turn by wanting Georges to keep on living, trying not to be a burden to him, though he cares for her too much to see her struggle with common tasks.  She fights daily for her dignity, until she can fight no more, and sometimes feels she can live no more.  But he still maintains hope, as when Anne is in a state when she has most of her faculties, he sees the woman he loves somewhere in there, and he helps her to talk and to sing, hoping for a turnaround to her condition that we all know never comes.

And it isn't just a movie full of only misery.  There is humor and positivity even amid the despair.  In one scene, Anne requests that the photo albums be brought out so that she can get a look at them.  She remarks, as she looks through the pictures of their youth, of how long life is; it has been a good life.  It is moments like these that cause for contemplation about the sadness of it all.  It isn't Anne's potential passing that is sad, as she has led a full, rich, wonderful life as a teacher, mother, and wife.  The sadness is to see her exist without being able to express any of those things she is. The sadness is also the void in the lives of others left behind.

Haneke's film also begs the hardest question of all: Is it an act of love to continue to prolong the life of someone who is obviously in constant pain, physically and emotionally, with no hope of recovery?

The two performances at the heart of the film are to be roundly applauded, as the two veteran French actors embody their characters so completely that we forget about them as performances.  It's as if we are a spy in the home of two actual people living this life, and while Haneke definitely isn't filming in a documentary fashion, there is a reality to the film, highly nuanced, that only comes from performances so acute that we know far more to the story by just reading their faces when they state they are feeling the opposite way. 

While Amour is a well-crafted and superbly acted film (winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2012) about old age, dying, and its repercussions, its also a difficult film to recommend outright.  Few people want to traverse to a theater to see misery and melancholy on display.  However, to those who have been through such an experience in their own lifetimes, especially those who may be going through such a thing at the moment, perhaps there is a empathetic quality to the piece as we watch Georges struggle to assist Anne through all of the means he has available, not because of duty or honor, but because he has such a love for her that it is without question.  In the end, Haneke's powerful showcase shows us that, though the mind, body, and soul may fade to nothingness, love still endures.
Qwipster's rating:
©2012 Vince Leo