Sunday, 9 December 2012
Amour (2012, Michael Haneke)
In Michael Haneke's previous film, The White Ribbon, a conversation unfolds between a young boy and his older sister as she's prompted by her sibling to inform him of the nature of death and our inescapable mortality. The sister is honest, doing the harder option of which the naive youngster purposefully smashes a nearby cup as a reaction to his dismay. The scene is one of Haneke's most tender, a word seldom used to describe the Austrian filmmaker, though it also sums up his most recent film in its stark portrayal of distressing subject matter. With Amour, the lives of elderly couple Georges and Anne are followed as they cope with debilitating illness and ultimately death. The film neither dilutes or diverts from the truth at any juncture. An uncompromising depiction of, as the bold title alludes to, love, not romance but love in its purest and most honest form. Like the sister in The White Ribbon Haneke respects and saves his audience from a deviated truth, presenting a brutal depiction of life which winds up as an ultimately life affirming and inspiring piece of work.
Beginning with fire services breaking down the locked doors of retired music teachers George and Annes house, the film works from the couple well and in good spirits attending the concert of a previous student of theirs. The day to day interactions between the two (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are so utterly convincing as a couple who've known each other for 50 or more years. As Annes suffers a stroke leading to a 50% paralysis we see the lengths to which George will go in caring for his wife and the infinite depths of his love for her. The affection between them is made clear not through contrived speeches but through what is left unsaid, the stroke of a hand, a look, and as we follow the drama, the sacrifices. One of the biggest feats of Amour is its ability to create humour out of its interactions and the deeply understood characters; as Georges tells an untold childhood story of his tearful breakdown in front of an older boy, she jokes that he's in danger of wrecking his image in his old age. When asked how, she replies, "you can be a monster". It's an acute sense of humour at the heart of Amour, as Georges finds the idea funny and clearly a true observation on his wife's part, it's the frank understanding between them that drives this honest sense of adoration.
Filmed with the expert precision we've come to expect from Michael Haneke, the drama often unfolds over a series of static long takes with Darius Khondji's photography bringing out a richness in the halls of this chamber piece. Isabelle Huppert does a fine job as the daughter unable to cope with the situation, a situation she finds herself on the outskirts of. It's the remarkably brave performances from Trintignant and Riva, though, that truly make the film as haunting and ernest as this; the candidness of the picture leaving the performers seemingly unfazed by the overwhelming emotions they've created. It's impossible not to think back over key scenes in Amour and escape unshaken, to feel rejoiced in the film's power of communicated humanity but also drained by its uncompromising discussion of decrepitude and euthanasia.