AMOUR Review

Amour is a french language film written and directed by Michael Haneke. Haneke is a filmmaker often known for his disturbing style more than anything with bleak thoughts and social commentary seeping into his writing. With this film though, which won the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes film Festival, the usually dark director stays true to his style while exploring a more sentimental subject. Amour literally means love and in that we are given a story that is truly a testament to what that word means. I went into the film not knowing much besides the fact it was receiving great reviews. The poster wouldn't seem to allude to anything more than a quiet little drama, almost amateur in its presentation. Everything about that statement tends to be true except for the idea it is anything close to amateur. Amour is a tough look at an aspect of life many would choose to ignore, a section so far down the road most people who join in the bond of matrimony cannot even comprehend. It is striking to see such a simple premise involve such complicated decisions and choices that reflect a lifetime of knowledge. It is impossible not to respond to the film in ways that, even if you haven't witnessed a loved one go through what unfolds, cause you to think of your life in terms of what is really important and who really means something to you. As cliched as it may sound it makes you appreciate the one by your side if you truly love them and likely question your allegiance if you jumped into something for reasons other than pure feeling or emotion. It takes on inevitable questions of life, its worth, and death. It is powerful in the most subtle of ways and a cathartic experience as any you could expect from a film.

Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke in Amour.
The story is of an elderly couple in their eighties in Paris and the wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke while her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has to deal with the progressive way in which it will only get worse. Initially Anne doesn't want to even go on with life as she accepts the fact of what this paralyzing ordeal will do to her and that is a refreshingly honest approach to the situation rather than being made falsely sentimental. They are each others lives, they are literally all each other has. They are both retired musicians and their days consist of hanging out in their apartment, eating meals and occasionally going to concerts of former pupils. They are still in love, they still rely on one another and that is clear but the film does a wonderful thing in not making them caricatures or figments of what we imagine our grandparents to be. They are real people with attitudes not always out to please and not always willing to lend a comforting word. There are several scenes when the couples daughter Eva (Isabelle Hupert) comes to visit and though they are short bits and sparse across the film as a whole they leave the needed impression. That while she, the daughter, is clearly concerned about her mother and wants to see her and be there for her she is not as invested as her father. This is understandable but this is also her father's entire life and so when he tells her he doesn't have time to make sure he answers her calls or keeps her up to date he is letting her know she is doing nothing but becoming more a burden for him than she is a help. Her wanting to care isn't really helping anything at all. It is a cold truth, but a dynamic that is present in any situation such as this. If you have experienced a love one go through something like this it will certainly strike a chord, but even if you haven't it leaves such a great impression it is hard to see how one could walk away not feeling at least a small, new appreciation for what life you have left.

Before this film, I have only seen one other Haneke movie and that being his English language remake of his own film Funny Games. That film was very tough to get through but in a completely different (more deranged) way. This, as compared to that, is a very human film, but still a movie that doesn't pull any punches as a Hollywood production of such a story might. I have no real sense of what the directors full catalogue is comprised of but the fact that the two films I've now seen from him are such diverse yet equally engaging and unflinching experiences makes it hard not to want to venture further into Haneke-land. That being said, without the context of who made the film it is still a hard one to wrap your mind around in that the title promises a story of the worlds most universal emotion while enticing you with the sweet face of an elderly man or woman. You may venture into it thinking this will be a sweet love story a la The Notebook about one couples devotion to each other and their unwillingness to let go and that is essentially true but this film is stripped of the cinematography that bathes everything in sunlight. It takes away the moments of relief from the overwhelming shadow that death is casting over them. This is a truthful, honest account of sickness and dying and the love that is put to a test during such an experience.

Eva (Isabelle Hupert) doesn't understand why her father (Jean-Louis Trintignant) will not let her into his life.
   
This may all sound a little too grievous for a cinematic experience and this is true, it is a hard sale. I found the film moving in ways I don't know that I've received from any other film in recent memory but I don't know that I will ever watch it again. It is a very serious film and one that is almost overly so with its static shots and honest to a fault dialogue. The performances of both Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are moving in what they have in common with the overall film. Their honesty, their inherent chemistry, the way they speak to one another, it is all reminiscent of any truly romantic relationship where it isn't the actions but the honesty between two people that allows their relationship to endure. As I touched on before, the film doesn't allow them to become stock characters but instead fleshes them out in a way that is really unheard of in film. Very little do you see two elderly people carrying an entire movie, but Haneke guides that unusual aspect to an advantage here by allowing us to see where these people have been, how they came to be here and why they make the decisions they do. Trintignant naturally has more of an allowance to develop his character and he does so by adding dimensions that will at the same time break your heart as he does lift you up. It is a tough role as it is a tough movie but it never takes on the role of being a burden. Haneke will hold specific shots, re-enforcing the mundane day-to-day of these people as if they are simply waiting around for death. He will only show Anne as much as she wants to be shown and Riva, in this time given, delivers actions that we don't always understand, that honestly make you want to dislike her yet you understand why she feels so. She is not a senile senior, she knows what is happening and what will happen and she doesn't want to be seen in such a state, she doesn't want to be remembered in that way and rightly so. It will drag at certain points but as it comes to an end there is a sense of closure that is easier to swallow than one might expect. It is a sad film, no doubt, but a true testament to in sickness and in health.