Movie Review: Amour
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
It is hard to recommend “Amour.” Austrian director Michael Haneke’s film cannot justly be described as entertaining, and it will likely leave you sad and weary.
But it is a film you must see.
“Amour” confronts audiences with the often avoided inevitability of death. It approaches life’s end not with panicked fear but with a stoic resignation that is pierced sporadically with moments of desperate emotion.
Haneke has displayed a meticulous hand in his cold treatment of societal ills and the dark side of human nature. He shows a bit more sensitivity in “Amour,” his second Cannes Palme d’Or winner in four years. But, even though his subject is imbued by the deepest sort of love, Haneke still keeps the story at a slight emotional remove, possibly out of concern for treading in sentimentality.
“Amour,” nominated for a best picture Oscar, begins at the end, as firefighters break into a Parisian apartment to find the deteriorating corpse of a woman.
The film then jumps back to reveal that woman, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), at a piano recital of one of Anne’s former students. Both husband and wife were once music teachers, and their erudition and sophistication inform their conversation and mannerisms without sapping them of vitality.
They speak to each other in respectful tones but with an honesty that can only be earned through decades of friendship, love and sacrifice. They return to their apartment to discover that a thief had attempted a break-in, a botched job Georges dismisses as amateur.
The intrusion on their safety gives Anne a startle, but the real threat to the couples lives has yet to arrive. The next morning, after she has prepared her husband’s breakfast with a smooth manner that suggests years of the practice, Anne has what doctors may describe as transient global amnesia. With her husband out of the room, she drifts into a trance-like state. When he returns, she remembers nothing of the episode or her husband’s attempt to bring her to alertness.
Anne hopes to dismiss the moment as a function of Georges’ imagination, but the perils of age encroach.
The danger hinted at in the early scenes arrives in the form of a series of strokes and a surgery. But there is little that can be done for Anne. She makes Georges promise not to put her in a hospital. Instead, Georges tends to the care of his wife from her bed at home. Eventually, a nurse must be brought in to assist, an addition that aggravates a suspicious Georges.
While taking care of his wife’s every need — feeding her, hydrating her, helping her with daily bodily tasks — the pressure begins to weigh on Georges. Both husband and wife attempt to face Anne’s slowly arriving fate with a measured calm, but a deep sense of sadness and loss pervades the house.
Georges succumbs a few times to the anger, spurred by the helpless feeling that often comes when forced to watch a loved one victimized by illness.
Their adult daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), visits and protests her parents’ handling of the situation. The scenes illustrate how personal dealing with death is, as Georges refuses to give credence to his daughter’s opinions.
It is devastating to watch Riva, a beauty of 1960s cinema, reduced to a fragile husk, her eyes yearning for relief. Even once she is no longer able to speak, her fear and frustration are displayed on her weathered face. Riva’s brave performance has earned her a best actress Oscar nomination. At 85, she is the oldest woman ever nominated for the award, and she deserves to win it.
Trintignant gives a steel spine to Georges that slowly weakens in the crucible of his wife’s illness, which consumes his life and the couple’s airless apartment, where almost the entire movie takes place. Georges earns the audience’s sympathy by the nobility he brings to his duty. He may not be terribly likable, but he deserves respect.
Haneke is his ruthless self in showing that even if we find the courage to face death, it makes the process no easier.
“Amour” is a gorgeous, painful dirge of a movie. But it is also a humble celebration of a real love that transcends any idealized notions of carefree romantic love. It is one of the year’s best films.