Amour (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Artificial Eye) Running Time: 127 min approx
Retired octogenarian piano teachers Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) live a peaceful retirement until Anne one morning suffers a small stroke. When a minor operation goes wrong, Anne is left partially paralysed and wheelchair bound. Shortly after, Anne suffers a second stroke, this time leaving her completely bed ridden, demented and incapable of speech which takes its toll on Georges as he struggles to look after his invalid wife.
Austrian auteur Michael Haneke delivers admittedly his most personal film to date –based on real life events in his own family – with this Oscar winning opus that boasts two of the most poignant and compelling performances of recent years from two venerated veterans of French cinema. Amour is a love story albeit a very bleak and challenging one.
At its heart is a tale of unbridled devotion from a husband to his sick wife that doesn’t sugar coat any of the negative and unsightly aspects dementia and invalidity has on both the individual and the couple. For some this will be a two hour slog; for others this will be a heart wrenching tale of love, loyalty and despair.
Initially Georges has no hesitation in playing the dutiful nurse to Anne, who silently feels like a burden to her husband even at the earliest stages of her paralysis. Presumably used to being active and independent, Anne makes Georges promise that she does not end up in hospital or a home which he agrees to, despite pleas from their busy daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) who thinks professional care is the answer.
After the second stroke in which Anne’s speech and physical movements are severely diminished, Georges agrees to take on two nurses (Carole Franck and Dinara Droukarova) but as time passes, he begins to resent their presence as he too begins to be worn down by the pressure of the situation, leading him to make some very drastic decisions.
As personal as this was for Haneke he confronts the issues head on and does so without being slave to unnecessary sentimentality or falling into the usual traps of emotional melodrama. This isn’t a plot based film; it may appears to be a typical European style movie in which apparently nothing happens for two hours but this is not the case. Daily life happens, a woman becomes gradually ill and her husband crumbles under the pressure of his devotion to her.
Haneke shows us the ins and outs of the daily care routine that Anne is subject to and the indignity of needing help for the slightest to the most personal and intimate duties. He doesn’t do this to engender sympathy for Anne (although it is not difficult to sympathise with her) but to enlighten the viewer as to the realities and necessities of the situation, which he does so without any heavy handed didacticism.
One’s enjoyment – for wanting a better term – of this film is based purely on how one reacts to honesty in cinema. Haneke presents us with some thing very honest that means often sharing things we are not going to like. In one scene late in the film when a dishevelled Anne begins to resist as Georges tries her make her drink some water, she defiantly spits it out. He slaps her in anger. A horrible thing to see but as Georges’s unravelling patience parallels Anne’s debilitating mental and physical health, it was almost inevitable.
The raw emotion, not just in this scene but many others in the film, hits home and hits hard which will largely be down to the main subject being an elderly couple. It could just as easily have been a young glamorous couple in the main roles but the impact wouldn’t have been the same. Conversely, the idea of love and devotion between two seniors reminds us that these are not exclusive properties of the young, a fact of life cinema tends to overlook.
It is very rare that the sublime Isabelle Huppert is overshadowed in a film but here is one of those exceptions – although she should feel no shame when her competition are two esteemed legends. Jean-Louis Trintignant returns to the big screen in a leading role – specifically written for him by Haneke – for the first time since 1998 and makes a hell of a return.
Georges suffers as much as Anne does but in a different way and Trintignant conveys this at first with quiet stoicism then an exponential anger at the illness that has taken his wife from him. It’s very subtle essaying of a complex role that comes from years of experience and understanding of the role which only a veteran can bring. Certainly every bit an Oscar worthy performance.
While Trintignant was overlooked by Hollywood for his roles, co-star Emmanuelle Riva did score a nomination (only to be unfairly robbed in this writer’s opinion) for her spellbinding and revelatory performance as Anne. Much like Marion Cotillard in Rust And Bone, Riva literally gave everything of herself to this role, both physically and emotionally.
Anne’s descent from being a healthy and active woman to a helpless invalid trapped within her own frail body is told through the sheer power of Riva’s performance both physically and emotionally in a gradual transformation which is frighteningly authentic. The frustration of her loss of dignity and the obvious burden she is putting on Georges is palpable despite the lack of physical expression, just a small testament to the power and effectiveness of this performance.
Michael Haneke is a director who is not afraid to take chances even it means confronting the audience with subjects they’d rather ignore. Amour therefore is an emotional and artistic triumph that touches and humbles the viewer with a simple yet heartbreaking love story that is truly for the ages.
French Language DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Introduction by Philippe Rouyer
The Making of Amour
Jean-Louis Trintignant Talks About Amour
Rating – **** ½
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