It is not very often that you watch a film that feels so realistic that you forget that you are sitting there in the theatre or in front of your large screen television watching it. Hollywood has a way of sucking the reality out of great stories. Director/screenwriter Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher) watches over the realism of his film like a protective father. There is nary a phony moment to be found here. That makes what goes on all that much more poignant.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant – Three Colours: Red, Under Fire) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva – Three Colours: Blue, Thérèse Desqueyroux – 1962) are a couple of retired music teachers now in the twilight of their lives. Still very much in love they are enjoying their time together and have settled into a comfortable routine. They eat meals together, go to piano concerts, read, and most importantly really communicate. This last one is going to become all the more important as time goes on.
One morning over breakfast Anne goes into a sort of a trance. Nothing Georges can do seems to be able to shake her out of it. Georges decides it is serious and is getting dressed to get Dr. Bernier when he hears Anne turn off the kitchen tap. She has no idea what has gone on and seems to think nothing of it. It wasn’t nothing and soon after Anne suffers a stroke.
After Georges brings her home and begins taking care of her Anne makes him promise to never take her back to the hospital. He struggles to take care of her at home, but is in totally over his head. With her mental faculties still intact, Anne wants to end her life as she sees herself being too much of a burden on her husband. He won’t hear anything of it. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert – I Heart Huckabees, 8 Women) is worried he cannot cope. When Anne suffers another stroke and her physical and mental state deteriorates even more that is the case. Their lifelong bond is about to be severely tested.
The inner workings of an intimate marriage are on full display in Amour. It is a film that grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go. Haneke has created a character study of the twilight of life and love during that period. He uses long takes and slow scenes with very little dialogue to recreate very realistically the final period of an elderly couple’s life together.
The film focuses on the little (some would say boring) moments that make up their daily life. There is no shying away from death or some other difficult moments in life. Window dressing is not the name of the game with Amour. Strong acting by the two leads is. Emmanuelle Riva is a revelation. She has the difficult task of portraying a woman struck down with two strokes. It is a physically demanding role in which she has to convey emotions without the use of many words. You feel her anger at her loss of independence and her shame at her dignity being snatched away from her.
Nothing about her illness is hidden from the viewer; it is painful, shameful and degrading. Haneke does not allow any sentimentality to creep into his picture. It is not an easy film to watch because it is so realistic. You find yourself involved from the very first scenes. All their success and love does not matter one iota when illness comes creeping in. The spiral downward is difficult to watch because you know there is no getting better; there is no recovery.
Georges’ love for her makes the watch bearable as you believe that he is trying his best to make her last days comfortable at a large sacrifice to himself. The love he feels for his wife is there in sickness and in health. Despite all the painful moments inherently this is a love story. All facets of a relationship and humanity are there in front of our eyes to take in and appreciate.
-Making of Amour
-Q+A with Director Michael Haneke
-Previews of The Gatekeepers, Before Midnight, The Company You Keep, At Any Price, Fill the Void