Michael Haneke is one of the most enigmatic writer/directors working today. Taking a look at his filmography, you’ll see such challenging films as Cache, which tells the story of a family being terrorized by strange videotapes, and the Palme d’Or-winning The White Ribbon, which revolves around odd happenings in a small village. However, Haneke has not been without his faults. He is also responsible for Funny Games, a dreadful film he remade in English ten years later. Now he continues his perplexing ways with his latest project, Amour, a film that not only won him the Palme d’Or at Cannes yet again, but also garnered the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar earlier this year.
The film tells the story of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly couple who are retired music teachers. Their lives are very simple, periodically attending concerts by their formers students and receiving visits from their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert). One day, a very strange incident occurs where Anne freezes up and becomes unresponsive to Georges. Shortly afterward, she comes too, but she doesn’t realize that anything odd has happened.
A visit to a doctor reveals a condition that requires surgery. However, the surgery is unsuccessful, causing her condition to get worse to the point where she is paralyzed on her right side and requires help from Georges to go about their apartment as usual. The film proceeds as Georges has to take care of her more and more while making tough decisions regarding the best way to help her.
In the usual Haneke fashion, Amour plays out in a very slowly paced manner. This tends to work quite well for his films. He used it in Cache and The White Ribbon to build up the mystery of both stories to great effect. The latter of the two I almost didn’t like because of its pacing, that is, until I realized what Haneke had been doing the whole time. With Amour playing out in this same fashion, I began to figure that Haneke must be doing it for a similar reason, that he had some larger purpose in mind that required us to wait through the whole film in order to see the big picture.
To my surprise, no larger picture came into view, which makes one wonder, what is Haneke trying to say with this material? That people eventually get old? Infirm? That it can be a difficult, trying, and emotionally tumultuous experience to have to care for a loved one in such a condition? These aren’t exactly grand revelations. Haneke’s purpose simply seems to be to show a couple having to deal with the difficulties of old age.
What makes this such a departure from his usual work is that his films tend to be deeper, more mysterious, and much more engaging than this. I’ve already mentioned that there’s not a larger picture, nor is there any mystery, which just leaves you watching an elderly couple going about their lives the best they can. Couple these elements with Haneke’s usual slow pace and you’ll come to realize just how engaging a film like this is.
There are parts of it that are done quite well. The opening scenes set the tone of this couple’s relationship in an effective manner that will be important later, and a good part of the film is an interesting study in just how much Georges can handle while trying to take care of his wife. The performances from the two leads should also be commended. You know they’re doing their jobs well when you begin to forget that you’re watching actors. These two have such a natural quality to their portrayals that this did indeed begin to happen.
I suppose you could say that the mystery of the film is why Haneke would choose to make something like this. Perhaps he simply wanted a change of pace (no pun intended) by making something a little more straightforward than he usually does. However, there is such a thing as being too straightforward, which is exactly what Amour becomes. If anything, it’ll leave you wishing that there was more substance to it.
The film itself is presented in a 1.85: 1, 1080p High Definition transfer that can be a bit jarring on the eyes due the extensive use of drab colors in the production design, but it doesn’t affect the sharpness of the picture too much. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is spotless. It’s a rather quiet film, but every little sound comes through loud and clear.
As for special features, there are only two included on the disc: “Making of Amour” and Q&A with Director Michael Haneke.” It may not seem like a lot, but these are actually some of the better extras I’ve seen in recent memory. The “Making of” runs about 25 minutes and contains engaging interviews with Haneke, Trintignant, Riva, and others, discussing the characters and what it was like to work on the film. It also contains some fascinating rehearsal footage that shows Haneke and his actors trying to iron out certain scenes. The Q&A is just that: Haneke being interviewed by Elvis Mitchell (via a translator) about certain aspects of the film (the actors, inspiration, etc.). It runs about 40 minutes and is somewhat interesting.
These are some pretty good extras, I just wish the film had lived up to its reputation. The funny thing is that Haneke himself says in one of the interviews that he was going for simplicity. It’s a shame that he didn’t realize that that’s what was hurting the film more than anything. It’s not that a film can’t be simple, it certainly can, it’s just that if you don’t have something else making up for that simplicity, then it’s going to be difficult to engage an audience. Amour is not a bad film, but the chances of you remembering it after it’s over are rather remote.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
Amour is a lesser work from Michael Haneke that features brilliant performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, but is held back by a simplistic narrative.