An austere, unflinching portrait of an elderly Parisian husband and wife facing the difficulties that precipitate aging. Becoming older is the subject of this heartfelt film – specifically the physical and mental breakdown of a man’s spouse as she falls ill. The script treats the issue with sensitivity and there is a surprising warmth to a chronicle with which director Michael Haneke is usually not associated. But the filmmaker, whose oeuvre was described by one author as a “cinema of cruelty”, hasn’t really changed that much. Sentimental accounts are not his bag and true to his sensibilities, there are aspects that highlight this as a drama done in his quintessential style.
Georges and Anne are retired music teachers in their 80s. They’re attending a recital of one of their previous students near the beginning of the picture. When they return home, they discover they have been robbed. The minutiae of their conversation informs us that they have a comfortable ease with each other that only a long-time married couple would have. The next morning as they’re sitting down to breakfast, Anne begins staring off into space and doesn’t respond to his questions. Georges is concerned and he arranges for her to see a doctor. He determines she requires surgery. It isn’t successful once completed. This all happens in the first 15 minutes. As the narrative develops her capabilities slowly deteriorate over an extended time span. We are essentially confined to their apartment. With the exception of a few scenes featuring their daughter played by Isabelle Huppert, these two carry the entire movie. The action is claustrophobic and agonizing. At one point about halfway through, he’s getting ready for bed for the night. There’s a knock at the door. Let’s just say what happens next is a good example of one of those intense moments.
At the heart of Amour are two engaging performances that are tantamount to our connection to this story. Jean-Louis Trintignant is an internationally recognized French film star with films darting back as early as 1956. Anyone who has ever seen A Man and a Woman will remember him in his 30s. Ditto Emmanuelle Riva who starred in Hiroshima, mon amour back in 1959. As Georges and Anne These two actors are essential to our “enjoyment” of this production. I use quotes because enjoy is such a strong word. The actors are warm and genuine, but the mood is chilly and remote. The central couple are equally genial and sweet. They could be our grandparents. We are drawn into their plight because we care about them. Once you do, there is no turning back as you descend a path of gradually building despair. Haneke’s traditional use of extremely long static takes is particularly effective here. They present the developments as real life, without artifice. There’s no score, another Haneke attribute. These qualities lull the audience into a state of depression. It is startlingly unsentimental. The lack of visual or audio cues is refreshing in it’s presentation of an idea often manipulated with such indicators. This is Haneke’s version of a disease-of-the-week TV movie. It’s not a reassuring portrayal, but it is sobering and honest.