Amour (2012), directed by Michael Haneke and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.
Georges and Anne are retired music teachers, living in a Parisian apartment. They lead pleasant, harmonic lives until Anne has a stroke. As a consequence, she has an operation that goes wrong, and ends up, partially paralysed, in a wheelchair. Georges tries to take care of her as best he can, but as Anne’s condition worsens, the strain it puts on him and their marriage becomes all the more poignant.
You’ve probably been yelled at from all angles to GO SEE THIS FILM (if you haven’t, consider this me yelling at you), and with good reason, though not for the usual reasons. Amour resembles some other modern films I have seen (for example We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011) and Archipelago (Joanna Hogg, 2010)) in that it is a quiet, slow-paced film, reflecting the nature of Georges and Anne’s life together. The only music in Amour is the odd piece of diegetic piano music. The film consists largely of scenes shot with a stationary camera, and cuts are rare.
I think it’s completely and utterly personal whether you are able to enjoy or stand this. Speaking for myself, I quite like it, simply because that is what life is - a series of eating, sleeping, showering and toileting sequences, with some extracurricular activities and visitors in between.
What makes Amour so very different from so many other films, is that it is not a pleasant film. It really isn’t. It’s raw, it’s depressing, it’s uncomfortable, and it gives one a hollow feeling in the stomach. And that is where its strength lies. Michael Haneke does not beautify Anne’s deterioration; he shows it as (I’m guessing) it is in real life. The degrading embarrassments Anne has to undergo (wetting her bed, being coarsely showered by a nurse) are so cringing because of Emmanuelle Riva’s incredible and subtle acting.
But Amour’s unpleasantness is not without purpose. The question that continually arises throughout the movie, is why Georges doesn’t lift the burden off himself and Anne. His daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) wants to send her to a care home. Anne herself alludes to euthanasia shortly after her stroke, saying she knows her condition will only worsen, and that she doesn’t want them both to suffer because of her. She literally says, ‘Je ne veux plus’, ‘I don’t want to anymore.’
So what is the ‘love’ the title refers to? What aspect of the story does it signify? I’ve been internally debating this for a few days now, and I still find it difficult. Maybe all of it - Georges nursing his wife, not relenting. He knows she is only getting worse and will eventually die, but continues to take care of her. I would have given up at the very beginning. But that brings me to a second conception of love that has been on my mind - that of compassion and pity. For both parties, Georges and Anne, the whole film is one long road of suffering and anguish. Wouldn’t it have been a greater sign of love if Georges had agreed with Anne at the beginning of her illness, that they would both be ‘better off’, if you pardon the economic connotation of the phrase, if Anne was euthanised? Wouldn’t it save them a lot of pain, in every sense? Doesn’t compassion and, yes, giving up require more love than holding onto the dying for as long as possible, since it is a selfless act? My own grandfather faced the same decision when his wife suffered from a very similar illness to Anne’s, and he couldn’t let her go, despite it not taking long for her to no longer be who she was.
SPOILER ALERT DON’T READ THE FOLLOWING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM AND WOULD LIKE TO.
SURE YOU WANT TO KNOW?
ALRIGHT, YOU CHOSE YOUR OWN FATE.
Of course, in the end, Georges does decide to end Anne’s life himself, by smothering her with a pillow, but only once she has disappeared and become unrecognisable to him and the audience, once he is sure she will not return. It’s perhaps the end of hope that makes him come to his decision. He’s reached a state of having nothing left to lose.
END OF SPOILERS
A movie like this is, for a large part, carried by its actors, and eightysomethings Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva do an outstanding job of it. Their acting is effortless and honest. Particularly Riva is most convincing and impressive, which is why I understand she is nominated for an Oscar, while Trintignant isn’t.
Yes, Amour is an unpleasant and uncomfortable film, but that is no reason not to like it. What makes it so good, what makes it deserving of so many awards and honours, is that it tells the simple story of love, death and loss with complete honesty, and without shying away from the heartbreak and the indignity that goes with it. If you’re willing to accept that it won’t make you feel better about dying or losing the ones you love, but rather that it tells the truth about it, then you will realise that you haven’t seen a film as extraordinary as Amour in quite some time. I am in awe, and more so as time goes by.