Every once in a great while, beyond the slew of staleness in the multiplex, there comes a film that reminds us that film most certainly can be a powerful medium. Michael Haneke’s Academy Award nominee Amour is the latest film that has left such a reminder. It’s a film that’s so emotional and gripping that you might feel like you were just hit by a city transit bus as you leave the theater. Haneke masterfully crafted a film that is the complete opposite of manipulative melodrama. The film doesn’t rely on a sappy score or an obscene amount of sentimentality to make us have lumps in our throats. Instead, he evokes our emotions by painting a dark and intimate portrayal of love, humanity, and life’s inevitable conclusion.
Amour centers on Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) as two sophisticated former music teachers living the last act of their lives in an apartment in Paris. They have spent a lifetime together. We are first introduced to them when they are seated for a concert performed by one of Anne’s most successful former students. As the concert comes to an end, they go back to their apartment where the rest of the film’s duration takes place. It’s in this confined space when their lives start falling apart.
As they sit down in the kitchen for breakfast, Anne stares blankly into space without muttering a word. Georges does everything he can to make her snap back into reality but doesn’t receive even the slightest nudge. As he becomes concerned, Anne snaps back into reality with no recollection of what just occurred. Anne has suffered a mild stroke. After an unsuccessful operation, Anne becomes paralyzed on her right side. She despises the fact that she can no longer take care of herself. She’s embarrassed and full of shame. Shortly after returning from the hospital, she makes Georges promise to never submit her into a nursing home. Georges promises her exactly that and devotes himself to make sure Anne is comfortable but then she suffers a second and more devastating stroke.
As mentioned before, Amour could’ve easily taken a turn into sentimentality. If you’re familiar with the work of Michael Haneke, you’ll already know not to expect to be manipulated by clichés. The film is masterfully crafted. Although it’s not as constructively and narratively complex as his previous efforts, Haneke proves that he is still a master of his craft. His filmmaking approach is astounding. Throughout the film, Haneke places the camera on a subject and rarely cuts away for a given amount of time. The long takes brilliantly showcases the stillness of the character’s existence within their own space. Perhaps the most remarkable quality of the film is the realism that Haneke relies on to portray life at its most darkest, cruel, and personal.
Amour is very much an actor’s showcase. If you didn’t know, both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Tringtignant have been acting for decades. Emmanuelle Riva is best known for her work in 1959’s Hiroshima, mon amour. In Amour, she gives a commanding performance that is emotionally riveting and physically demanding. There’s no doubt in my mind that she deserved the Oscar nomination. Jean-Louis Tringtigant, best known for 1969’s Z and 1970’s The Conformist, is equally deserving of praise. It’s too bad that he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination because he gave one of the best performances I’ve seen in quite some time.
As you can vividly imagine, Amour is not exactly the most “uplifting” film. It’s dark, devastating, but yet ultimately truthful. As much as we want to ignore the fact, we are not immortal. Amour is a powerful and personal piece of work that is a portrait of life’s bleak conclusion. It’ll be a tough film to revisit. The film doesn’t only serve as a reflection of our own humanistic fear of death; it also makes a profound statement about love’s most truthful qualities and the sacrifices that must be made. Georges sacrifices himself to be by the side of the woman he has devoted himself to for over half a century. Amour is one of the most heartbreaking films I’ve seen in recent years. It’s difficult to watch but it’s a film worth struggling through.
Amour – 9.5/10