(2012 – Director: Michael Haneke Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva)
Georges and Anne (the title characters) don’t have a magical love that one would expect in a movie titled Love. Rather, it’s that George and Anne’s love for one another shows us that love isn’t about emotion at all. It’s about companionship, and bravery. Amour will hit you in the gut with its authenticity and boldness, but also with its simplicity and openness of what the human spirit can withstand.
Michael Haneke’s newest picture is the bravest film I saw this past year. Even I had trouble looking at a plot synopsis, or watching the trailer, and finding the motivation to go see this movie despite it’s rave reviews and prize at Cannes. But the movie was never about the content. It’s not about the script. It’s much more than simply pouring on the sap as we watch two old people die and say they love each other until everyone in the audience is forced to cry. I think that’s what people’s imagination sometimes boils down to when thinking of growing old with your spouse. We all desire to grow old with our loved ones. Georges and Anne show us that growing old together, no matter how much in love you are, is tough work.
When Anne has her first stroke early in the film, you see the shock and helplessness on George’s face. Going from happiness, to having to endlessly take care of your loved one just so they stay alive, can happen in an instant. It’s truly terrifying, and nothing in this world can prepare you for that.
The point of Amour is to let us be an engaged audience. We are all witnesses to the steady decline of Anne. We are witnesses to their humor, annoyances, likes, dislikes, and gentleness. Haneke sets up the camera and lets entire scenes play out in one shot. Again, we are the audience. We see how taking care of Anne gradually takes its toll on Georges. He promises that he won’t send her to the hospital again despite his daughter’s repeated requests. This was fascinating because, at least for me, I think younger people look at parents and grandparents getting older, and they are more concerned with feeling sadness, or feeling loss, or focusing efforts on making the situation “better.” Georges has a great scene where he tells his daughter he’s not concerned with her concerns. His focus in his life is taking care of Anne. He doesn’t hold any false hope of her getting better. He never sheds a tear. The love that Georges and Anne have for each other isn’t any sort of romantic love. They are companions. They have grown to be each other’s caregivers. There are flashes where Georges thinks about Anne as she once was, but he quickly puts a stop to that. He has no time to be sentimental when he needs to force his wife to take a drink of water, or change her diaper.
It’s the realism of Amour that breaks your heart. There’s no soundtrack. Besides the beginning of the film, there’s no shots outside of their apartment. We are stuck in this apartment, away from the rest of the world, for two hours. The inevitable is going to happen and we are forced to suffer right alongside of Georges. What’s great about Haneke’s script and direction isn’t what he puts in: it’s what he doesn’t put in. After ten minutes into the film, the movie disappers. Subtitles and all. You literally start to live Georges and Anne’s life, one day at a time. One moment at a time. We see Georges teaching Anne, dressing Anne. But we also see how he never complains once even when Anne starts to break down into childish fits forcing Georges to slap her. It hurts to watch that. But Georges did that out of love, much like a parent will at times spank their child out of love.
Amour makes you understand how knowing that you are losing control of your body, your mind, can be scary. But longing to not let that control you, to not let anyone treat you different, is a powerful test of one’s will. Anne never wanted to be taken the hospital. She never wanted to feel like she was sick. She wanted to be home, where she belonged. But when does one lose oneself? At what point do we lose someone entirely? The moment Georges calms Anne down from her senseless muttering is a profound moment, only to transform into one of the most gut-wrenching minutes to watch as Georges smothers Anne with her pillow to end her suffering. It’s what she wanted. It’s what he needed. It was there last love letter to each other.
Amour laughs in the face of emotions. There’s hardly any to be found in the film. It’s a blunt, factual look at what it means to take care of your loved one as they are dying. It seems like a simple concept that we’ve all seen before. But nothing is like this film. Amour is about a moment in time that you experience. Sickness, and death in old age is a pretty common thing in our world, but something that no one wants to deal with. Amour actually makes getting older make more sense to me in a strange way. Georges and Anne showed me the will power it takes, the sense of duty, and the companionship needed to make it through.
I left the theatre not being able to wrap my mind around the story. There’s not a whole lot happening. We really don’t learn a whole lot about the characters. I left wondering if the story had been more emotional if it would have struck a stronger chord with me. After giving it some time, I’m glad Haneke made the film the way he did. The movie isn’t there to make the audience feel better, or to have a significant revelation. It’s there for the audience to experience this moment, in as truthful a manner as possible. I respect that. It showed me that showing real life in as unfiltered way as possible makes you realize how meaningful simple moments are in your life. You realize how significant even the most mundane things are. Real life can evoke more passionate, personal emotions than any movie script could ever imagine.
You may be asking why you would ever want to watch such a depressing movie. Believe me, I was too. But after seeing it, I can’t imagine not seeing it. It harkens back to the origins of cinema, where it transports you to another world using the simplest of means. Movies are meant to reflect the human spirit and Amour does that wonderfully. Here’s a great quote from Roger Ebert in his review of Amour that I found appropriate:
“This is now. We are filled with optimism and expectation. Why would we want to see such a film, however brilliantly it has been made? I think it’s because a film like “Amour” has a lesson for us that only the cinema can teach: the cinema, with its heedless ability to leap across time and transcend lives and dramatize what it means to be a member of humankind’s eternal audience.”