In dignity – Amour review (Sydney Film Festival)

Amour - Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, and Isabelle Huppert. Directed by Michael Haneke. By Simon Miraudo.

Amour plays the Sydney Film Festival on June 16, 2012. It also plays the Melbourne International Film Festival in August. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

Who said Michael Haneke isn’t a romantic? My personal feelings for the Austrian director have never been of total adoration; in fact, were we Facebook friends and/or dating (admittedly, not scenarios I had previously imagined) our relationship would probably be classified as ‘It’s Complicated’. But my issues with his Funny Games and to a lesser degree Cache were mostly overwritten by 2009’s The White Ribbon, which finally saw the auteur dealing with real human beings instead of abstract concepts. That is doubly the case in his French-language feature Amour (which, like Ribbon, was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes). It’s a sensitive, occasionally light-hearted, but ultimately deeply affecting love-story that affirms Haneke as one of the best working directors in the world.

Octogenarians Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are still very much in love after decades of marriage. They still occasionally flirt, but even more telling is their ease with one another while sitting in silence, or making small-talk while eating breakfast, or sharing stories that the other hasn’t heard before. One evening, Anne sits bolt upright in bed with a panicked expression, not sharing with her husband the reasoning. The next morning, mid-conversation, she seemingly drops off the planet. Georges looks at her dead in the eyes but there is nothing there; no sense of recognition, no pain, no nothing. It’s a heart-breaking moment for Georges – and also for Anne when she awakens and has to have explained that she was momentarily switched off – but it’s just a sliver of the suffering that lies ahead for the two of them.

She’s had a stroke, rendering her right-side paralysed, and the doctors can do little but tell Georges another more debilitating one is on the way. He becomes her carer in their impressively furnished apartment, and this is where we remain for the rest of the picture. At first, the duo takes the impairment in their stride; with dignity, humour, and hope. However, life affords no such lasting confidence in the human spirit. Anne does indeed get worse, and her desire to go on is inevitably exhausted. She instructs Georges to never take her back to the hospital; she pulls out a photo album and remarks on how long and lovely her time on Earth has been; she stops eating. It goes on, and gets far, far worse, and Georges is haunted by his somewhat selfish desire to keep Anne alive at all costs, as well as the guilt for wanting it to be over as soon as possible.

It’s hard to fathom two performances as perfectly attuned to one another as Trintignant and Riva’s; their lived-in chemistry is warm and effortless. The two also have a physical connection, such as when Georges must help carry Anne from wheelchair to bed. It looks as if the two are engaging in an careful, intimate waltz. Haneke, as he is wont to do, asks a lot of his actors, and the journey they go on together is a tough one to watch. How Riva was able to sustain freezing parts of her body – arm, mouth – throughout Haneke’s exquisite long takes I will never know. Isabelle Huppert stars as their daughter Eva, while William Shimell (Certified Copy) appears briefly as her philandering husband. We get no sense of life-long fidelity from the two of them, and that’s intentional.

Amour transcends the misery pornography usually intrinsic to these kinds of films with its startlingly frank depiction of bodily degradation, which is as respectful as the depiction can be. Some may question the worth of a movie consumed by such sadness, though the key is in the title. This is, above all, a love story. We may be used to seeing the starts of these things in meet-cutes and frothy rom-coms; Haneke is merely presenting us with the end of the romance. Chillingly, utmost devotion to the bitter end is in fact the best possible outcome to ‘Happily Ever After,’ whether we’d like to admit it or not. Haneke – also responsible for the script – plays no funny games on the audience in his considerate and humanistic Amour, though it will have you begging for a remote control all the same; to wind back the clock and return to better times between Georges and Anne.

5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Amour plays the Sydney Film Festival on June 16, 2012. It also plays the Melbourne International Film Festival in August. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

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