Release Date: 16th November 2012
Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
In a week dominated by the release of the final Twilight film, Michael Haneke’s latest sneaks in under the radar to remind us what it truly means to love -and in turn to be loved- by another human being. Following the lives of an elderly Parisian couple as the wife’s health starts to deteriorate, the film addresses themes of life, death, love and relationships with such delicate simplicity that it is impossible not to be moved. Balancing between moments of emotional intensity and bittersweet joy, Amour is the most candid and downright honest portrayal of love in recent memory.
Amour is Haneke’s second Palme d’Or winner; The White Ribbon was his first in 2009. Quite the accomplishment. He is indeed one of the true masters of modern cinema: despite his dedication to realism, his films are intensely cinematic. In Amour, everything is pared down to the bare minimum: the lighting is natural, the editing slow, the dialogue sparse and the soundtrack non-existent. Haneke doesn’t crudely demand your attention; instead he appeals to your human nature, to your curiosity, doubts and insecurities. In one scene we see Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) wrestle with her deterioration; she’s naked as she is showered by her nurse, vulnerable and upset. The camera lingers uncomfortably long, a trait that is revisited throughout the film, rarely straying from the confines of their claustrophobic apartment. In an era where there are few cinematic taboos left, Haneke challenges us to face everyday life and inevitabilities without ever resulting to crassness or melodrama. They are shown to us with a refreshing starkness, which although may be harrowing, never feel oppressively bleak.
The performances in particular are astounding: Emmanuelle Riva is a stand out, bringing grace and dignity to a role that could quite easily have been over played, and Jean-Louis Trintignant shows a heart-breaking tenderness as her suffering husband Georges. The characters themselves are at times difficult to identify with, their actions often inexplicable or ambiguous. But that, in the end, is what Amour is about: Haneke offers no easy explanation for the behaviour of its characters and doesn’t try to, but rather asks you to appreciate the intricacies of such a long and loving relationship.
With our American-tainted film tastes, we are all too accustomed to seeing death as a quick occurance, something which ends with a musical crescendo and dying words of wisdom. By the end of Amour, Anne doesn’t know who she is, and cannot even speak. The taboo that Haneke faces directly is death in its unglorified realness: he forces you to suffer as her husband does, despairing at her slow and inevitable decline. Amour might not be an easy watch, but it is an essential one.