Amour is a film for film-makers and is a film student's dream. It is the kind of movie that demands analysis over and over for its dense symbolism and wonderful structure. It makes some really odd choices, but overall writer/director Michael Haneke knows exactly where he's putting the camera and why, and every shot on the screen oozes purpose. Foreign films don't often gets nominated at the Oscars outside of the best foreign film award, let alone for best director and a best actress nomination for star Emmanuelle Riva, but Amour is moving, brutally honest cinema about love, life, sacrifice, and death. NOTE: Spoilers to come. A lot of them.
The aforementioned Emmanuelle Riva stars in the film as Anne along with co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, a couple of retired music teachers in their eighties enjoying their quiet little life together. The film takes a turn when Anne suffers a stroke, paralyzing her right side and forcing Georges to take care of her. The attack puts a strain on their relationship, with Anne falling increasingly ill and wanting more for her husband than to take care of her, and with Georges ever-loyal and willing to do anything to make her well again.
The performances by both Riva and Trintignant are simply spectacular. There is a love and devotion between these two characters that goes beyond words and it is bright and alive in the air between them at all times. Most enjoyable are the scenes between the two just looking at one another, such as Georges attempting to feed Anne and give her water; the look on Anne's face is one of such excruciating pain. The real crime is Trintignant being overlooked at the Oscars for his amazing performance; he is every bit as spectacular as Riva is, and their performances compliment one another perfectly. Truly, one would not have been possible without the other.
The film co-stars Isabelle Huppert as their daughter Eva, a far smaller role but a character just as large as the other two. It is fantastic to see her evolution as a character, and how her mother's deteriorating health commands more and more of her attention as the film goes on. Alexandre Tharaud plays Alexandre, a former student of the couple's who has gone on to great success and fame.
The amazing acting, however, is only a small portion of the very large picture that is Amour. It owes everything to the script from Haneke and to his careful direction. The camerawork is a bit jarring at first; shots remain steady for quite a long time, looking at characters from behind or from the side, keeping things out of focus, and keeping its distance; an interesting choice that serves to truly isolate Anne and Georges. In some scenes the camerawork is deliberately meant to make the viewer almost uncomfortable; others, it serves to illustrate the slow, stagnant lives that the two of them live. The viewer is only allowed certain access to these moments, the minutes that make up these lives. Georges and Eva have a discussion about her relationships and career- Georges has his back to the camera, while all the viewer can see is Eva. Haneke closes the audience off emotionally from Georges, forcing them to wonder with him at what happened to Anne in the prior scene.
Amour also uses beautiful symbolism, in many ways but most specifically in the form of a pigeon twice arriving at Georges and Anne's home. The bird finds its way in through an open window, popping about the apartment- the first time through, Georges shoos it away, chasing it back to the window and out of the apartment. The second- after Anne has already passed away- he captures and cradles closely in his arms. In both of these instances the pigeon represents death, passage into the afterlife- he wants more than anything to keep his wife alive, and make her well again, and chases the bird off. Once she has passed, however, there is little left on Earth for Georges, and he embraces death to join his beloved Anne.
There is too much to say about a film so richly layered and this review barely touches the surface. Amour is a moving film about real love and real life and the struggles that love must endure. It certainly isn't a blockbuster, it can be a bit slow and a bit jarring at times- the camera is unforgiving, and the characters grow more and more haggard as the movie goes on. Yet it is, to its core, a testament to the beauty and unending power of love that transcends this or any other life. Its performers simply live and breathe these characters for two hours, but I promise they'll stay with you for a very long time after. Four and a half out of Five Stars.
By Nicholas Haskins
The international trailer really fails to capture the artistry of Amour, but check it out anyway. If you're a fan of my reviews please subscribe to them and share them; your support means everything to me! You can also become a fanboy/girl and follow me on Twitter or book my face.