Every so often, you come across a film so powerful, so devoid of cinematic tropes, and so true-to-life that it renders your speechless. Now, mind you, I had an understanding of the subject matter before I entered the dark theatre, but never had I imagined that Michael Haneke, the director of such cold films as The White Ribbon and Funny Games, could make a film so heart-wrenchingly, unflinchingly honest and sympathetic. The hype is real though, Amour is the best foreign film of the year.
This is a film that defines love the hard way. There are no long embraces, no kisses in the rain, or acoustic-driven montages. Rather, it touches on the frailty of human life and the impact this has on an even frailer bond between one deeply committed, aging couple. In the opening moments, we find Anne (Emannuele Riva) lying atop her bed in an abandoned apartment. Her skin is pallid and blue, starkly contrasted with dry flower petals that surround her body. It’s a surprisingly bold opening, yet is handled in an uncharacteristically quiet manner. We know right off the bat that one of the lead characters will die, setting a somewhat oppressive, ominous droll over what is to follow. I imagine that one could argue that revealing the ending immediately could ruin a film’s impact, but they would be missing the point entirely: Death is always the expected outcome.
The film takes place almost entirely within the confines of their posh, bourgeois Parisian apartment. We fall in love with these characters almost immediately, and as we do, we bear witness to Anne’s first stroke. She stares blankly at her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who tries his best to snap her out of it. When she does finally come to, she has no recollection of the incident. She even goes so far as to deny it. But when her hand shakes as she goes to pour her tea, her eyes tell a devastating tale.
I will try to avoid mentioning too many specifics, as we already know the outcome and that would thus defeat the purpose of viewing this masterpiece. But I will say that the film is less story-driven than I am used to. Rather, it acts as more of a meditation on the vulnerability of the human heart and the endurance of the human spirit. The last act of the film moves mountains, and may hit too close to home for some (especially older viewers). It speaks to the integrity of the writing and the production itself that I felt so altered by this film. I couldn’t move when the credits rolled.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emannuele Riva are both effortlessly flawless. I was ashamed, really, that I wasn’t more familiar with these actors before watching the film (I cannot say I am a French Cinema connoisseur). They are not actors, but a real living and breathing couple. I could feel their love, and it was especially remarkable witnessing Emannuele Riva’s transformative role as the ailing wife. Her body language (as well as George’s) conveys a sense of despair, longing, and sadness that I hadn’t yet witnessed in the film medium. You will remain transfixed to the screen, unable to waver you eyes for even a minute (even during its most terrifying elements).
I will admit right now that this is a film I likely won’t watch again, but for good reason: It served its purpose. This is a tough review to write because I usually gloat about films that have deeply affected me. Unlike many films I see, though, I never felt manipulated. The film’s portrayal of love in old age was so downright convincing that it created this dichotomously cynical, yet hopeful viewpoint my mind (even at my young age): We spend our whole lives caring for someone, or something, just so we can watch them leave us forever in an instant. But then I pushed my sardonic outlook aside and tried to accept the truth in the films message: We all face the same fate, and we don’t want to do it alone.
Amour is a film that is tough to recommend because of the subject matter, but is impossible to deny because of its impeccable direction and life-altering performances. There are scenes near the end of the film where Anne essentially asks Georges to let her go, to let her die and be at peace. Of course, Georges won’t listen to her. It is here that the film asks its toughest question: What would you do in this situation? Would you watch the person you love continue to suffer, or would you grant them their last wish?