Director Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ is a masterpiece about aging. If you ever had to deal with a dying loved one, this film will hit you emotionally. It’s powerful, it’s deliberate. It is not a feel-good movie. It reminds us that life is grand but life is short too. Shakespeare said it so eloquently in Hamlet, “To be or not to be: that is the question… For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” Yes, there is the rub. As the title suggests, it is about love but Haneke gives us a grim reminder of a future none of us honestly want to face.
The film starts off with firemen busting open an apartment door before the story is told in a flashback. Georges (Jean-Louis Trinignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are retired music teachers in their 80s. They live in a spacious Parisian apartment that is decorated with artifacts from a life well lived together. An opening sequence takes us to a concert hall. The camera faces the audience. Haneke is a patient filmmaker. Slowly, the audience focuses on the octogenarians preparing to listen to a former student’s recital. This is the only scene outside of the apartment. It may sound claustrophobic to have the story unfold in the confines of an apartment but it never feels that way.
Haneke’s choice of cinematographers was a good one. Darius Khondji (Alien Resurrection, The Beach, Midnight in Paris) has worked with some of the greatest directors in cinema. He uses the frame as an artist uses a canvas to paint. His keen sense of lighting brings out subtle details of the worn-out apartment. Haneke has a distinct film style. He prefers long takes interspersed with some close-up shots. It works effectively well. Through Haneke’s filmmaking style, he shows the couple’s decaying lives. We are witness to the horror of a husband caring for a wife mentally disappearing before his eyes. It is sad but so brilliantly done in a dignified way.
Anne suffers a stroke. This begins the slow decline of her health and their life together. As the dutiful and loving husband, Georges is a good caretaker. He even fires a nurse that is too rough with his wife. He is also protective of his wife when their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) comes to visit. Huppert’s performance is superb. Anyone who has experienced the decline of a parent will be able to relate to Eva’s feelings of despair and helplessness. When Eva offers sincere advice to her father, Georges is understandably defensive. He has promised Anne never to take her back to the hospital. It is his loyalty to Anne and his total devotion to her well-being that makes ‘Amour’ such a meaningful experience.
This film has been garnering one award after another including the prestigious Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It is nominated for five Academy Awards. Be aware, this film is painful to watch. Foreign films have a tendency to show life more realistically than Hollywood movies with the standard happy ending. The lead actors are two veterans of French cinema. Riva just scored an upset with a Best Actress win at BAFTA (British Academy Awards). This film is a shoo-in for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Don’t be surprised if it walks away with more Oscar gold at the Academy Awards this year.
‘Amour’ is now playing exclusively at The Flicks theatre, downtown Boise.