To look at the movie poster for Amour and to know about its recent Oscar noms (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Foreign Film), one would think she was encountering a film about old age and the redemptive power of love. Some may see the film that way, but it’s much more complicated than that.
“Amour” definitely isn’t The Notebook.It has the old-age part, but not the redemptive-power-of-love overtone. The film – directed and penned by the very Austrian Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher) – tells the story of the lives of a retired Parisian couple after the wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke. Anne has an aversion to hospitals, and after an unsuccessful operation to clear the blocked artery that caused her stroke, she asks her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to take care of her from then on only in their home. Having little contact with the outside world, the couple is forced to turn to and look at only one another and how they have lived their relationship.
Our protagonist Georges, ever dutiful, is the shaky rock (is that possible?) for his wife as her health declines. Sometimes she is mopey and demanding. Other times, she seems content just to be with him. They read together. They reminisce. She learns new things about him, perhaps listening to him for the first time. Over the course of the film, her right side succumbs to paralysis and she suffers another stroke that leaves her bedridden. One remarkable scene ends with Georges slapping his wife out of frustration when she won’t drink the water he must feed her. The film ends with Anne’s death, which has its own implications.
Amour is jarring, uncomfortable, minimalistic. It has no score, and no music aside from that which is part of the actual story. The most thought-provoking aspect of “Amour” is perhaps the notion that love doesn’t have its own definition; it is instead an amalgam of things – at times confusion, dependency, despondency, intimacy, friendship, devotion. It cannot be defined itself, but only analyzed moment-by-moment for us to have any grasp of it. Could it even be reduced to being a “habit”?
And what of death in Amour? Perhaps it is human nature that will have us believe we are dead the moment we are diagnosed with a terminal illness or sick. But our immobilized, “dying” Anne is still very much alive while lying in bed – capable of fear, contentment, frustration, the ability to feel physical pain and to continue to interact with her husband. Producer Michael Haneke seems to be saying that the quality of our lives can deteriorate, but our lives can still change up until the moment we take our last breath.
It’s a brave and purposeful move to title a film Amour. Your audience comes to you with preconceived, idealistic notions. Haneke – himself an aging, married artist – is ready to break you of those notions, however uncomfortable you may be, and considering I’m still thinking about the movie two days later, he succeeded.
Verdict: A well-done film. Not for everyone. Thought-provoking, depressing and European in its outlook. Some could see it as hopeful; its sparseness and characterization were too gritty for me to want to label it optimistic.
Release: December 19, 2012 (limited)
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert