Cast: Emmanuelle Riva (Anne), Jean-Lois Trintignant (Georges), Isabelle Huppert (Eva)
Director/ Writer: Michael Haneke
Reason why I watched: strong reviews, great director, award season love
It takes a confident director to craft a film like Amour. After all, this is a motion picture about old age, debilitating illnesses and how devastating they can be to our loved ones. Given the subject matter, it would be easy to expect a film that is grueling in its unceremonious display of anguish and tragedy, but instead, Haneke manages to craft an honest piece of work that is interesting and touching, albeit incredibly sad.
The story opens with an extended shot of an eager audience awaiting some sort of performance at a packed theater. In the sea of faces our eyes examine the whole room until they subconsciously travel to an older couple just left of the center of the frame. There is not something particularly remarkable about them yet our eyes are fixed for the rest of the shot. There is a certain honesty and wisdom in this couple that we do not see elsewhere in the audience though. It is as if they are the only ones that are truly satisfied with what they have and who they have been. They are entirely pleased and comfortable being there, next to each other, getting ready to watch the show.
The next scene shows them arriving to their elegant Parisian apartment, excitedly talking about what they had just seen. At some point he pays her a sweet compliment and, rather remarkably, we immediately begin to construct their loving life together in our minds. We know from that moment that this is one of “those” couples who have been and always will be in love with each other.
What happens to Georges and Anne during the rest of the film is an inescapable reality we spend most of our lives trying not to think about. The fact is that every story must have an ending, no matter how sweet the tale has been. For our protagonists it is a painfully slow and bitter end, one that represents the ultimate test of devotion and love, asking Georges to completely sacrifice himself, needing every bit of patience and courage to continue to push on despite how heartbreaking it all is.
For actors Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Lois Trintignant, Amour is the coronation of a long and fructiferous career infront of the camera. The film was, I presume, extremely difficult to make for them. It is, after all, an ackowledgement of old age, leaving youth and the “glory days” behind. For actors it could be especially tortuous, being that they are egotistical creatures whose drive, even if only at a subsconscious level, is to be seen and become the center of attention. To do so as the degraded physical version of your former self must be courageous or, at the very least, a good form of therapy.
The script written by Haneke himself is simply heartbreaking. For these two people it is an arduous path, but they face it courageously, rarely hinting despair. This is why, when the frustration does show, it ignites a deeply emotional reaction that reminds us that their suffering is real and inescapable. The script crafts real people. They become, to our eyes, an extension to our families. They take on the role of everyone’s parents (or grandparents depending on how old you may be). We relate because they are good people, and because the love they share is a human aspiration, no matter how cynical we may have become.
♦ Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦