Directed by Michael Haneke (2012, Austria)
A pigeon flies through an open window of an elderly couple’s apartment. An aging piano teacher, partially paralyzed from a stroke, struggles to accept the spoonful of food offered to her by her husband’s trembling hand. An elderly man stares intently at a piano, imagining his dying wife seated before him and playing the music that filled their lives. Such are the deceptively commonplace and yet all together riveting scenes that make up acclaimed director Michael Haneke’s new film Amour.
Receiving the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as well as numerous Academy Award nominations including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actress, Amour tells the story of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). They are an ageing French couple, who after years of marriage are facing their final days together.
Filmed almost entirely within the confines of their softly lit apartment and surrounded by a lifetime’s worth of accumulated paintings, books, and memories, Georges and Anne renegotiate their relationship after Anne’s sudden stroke. Haneke’s often-stationary camera patiently observes the couple’s daily interactions that Trintignant and Riva suffuse with tremendous depth. Although Anne’s body becomes sadly contorted and unresponsive, she conveys with her eyes a soul with deep knowledge and awareness. Although Georges lacks strength and sure balance, he conveys conviction and self-assurance as he stands up to the criticisms of a questioning daughter and abrasive caretaker.
Lighter moments are also struck that give us a glimpse of the wider range of experiences of these two lovers, such as Anne’s playful explorations in an electric wheelchair. In doing this, Amour conveys the fragility, confusion, frustrations, and joys of a married couple in their twilight years with a dignity and self-knowledge rarely seen in cinema.
Yet, for all of its moments of love and tenderness the film also contains challenging moments of cruelty and violence. These have their weight and seriousness, and the church’s positions on some of the moral and ethical situations presented in the film are well known. However, it can be hoped that these do not overshadow the film’s tremendous strengths.
As Hollywood films increasingly portray love as the overly romanticized and inherently fleeting sole-possession of the young, Amour countermines expectations by unsentimentally envisioning an enduring marriage through the struggles of old age. Haneke’s film shines a light upon a love as heart-wrenchingly intense and real as any other. Their end may come with the moral strain of the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski or the tragedy of Shakespeare, but as Anne pages through an old photo-album of their lives together and offers her assessment, “It’s beautiful…” how can we disagree?