The prestigious Cannes Film festivals highest honour, the Palme d’Or, has only been bestowed to the same filmmaker on a handful of occasions. Amour received the award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and marked the second win (the first win being for the incredible The White Ribbon) for renowned Austrian director Michael Haneke. So it’s with suitably high expectations that I viewed Amour, a story about Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) former music teachers happily living out their twilight years until Anne has an unexpected debilitating stroke that irrevocably changes their lives.
Haneke has said that his films are to diametrically oppose Hollywood cinematic passivity and Amour is no exception; it commands the audience to participate. Haneke has an innate understanding of how to play with your expectations. The opening scene has you watching an audience at a symphony applauding and transfixed at the musicians occupying the space of the viewing audience. It’s like a little nod to the film’s festival premiere. Haneke also has his characters occupying a single apartment space for the duration of the film. Each shot is artfully composed to draw you into every aspect of the scene. On occasions before the characters occupy the space, I found myself pouring over the rooms; what’s on the shelf, who are these people?
The dialogue is organic and authentic. This ‘is’ a real relationship, and the characters of Georges and Anne feel like they’ve been together for years. The scenes are under-dramatised, it’s as if Haneke wants you to observe the characters in all of life’s initial inanity to see the reality of their relationship and the scripting is spartan as to rely on the performances of the leads as Anne’s health takes a turn for the worse.
Jean-Louis Trintignant delivers a performance that makes you forget that you’re watching a film. He is so ‘in’ each moment and attuned to each reaction that there’s nothing but Georges on screen.
Emmanuelle Riva delivers the performance of her career. Riva has to construct and destroy Anne for the audience as the film progresses. It’s a performance that transcends the artifice of performance; her physical portrayal of a descent inside herself repeatedly wrenched my emotions.
Amour is harrowing, emotional, thrilling, intense, beautiful, tragic, and powerful cinema. If you weren’t convinced that Haneke wasn’t one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Amour will make you fall for him.
Amour is screening in Australia at the Sydney Film Festival 2012, in the U.S.A on the December 19th 2012, and in the U.K on the 16th of November 2012.