Making the commitment to spend the rest of your life with someone, through sickness or health in marriage, is one of the oldest traditions in the union between two people. The tale of an elderly couple in filmmaker Michael Haneke’s Amour sees that marital commitment through to the absolute end.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are in their eighties and enjoying retirement when Anne suddenly has a stroke. Georges must care for Anne as her physical and mental condition slowly deteriorates.
Haneke establishes Amour by acknowledging the end of a life thus cementing the path of his main characters. The opening is macabre but the authenticity is undeniable. Haneke forces us to think about the way we’ll exit the world one day and it’s frightening.
That stark sense of reality comes from the fact that Georges and Anne are just regular people and their long marriage is admirable and sweet, especially in 2012/13 where most marriages don’t even survive the wedding reception. These characters are authentic and relatable to the point where it’s so real that your heart slowly fragments into tiny little pieces as if you’re witnessing a situation that demonstrates the tragic inevitability of life.
Trintignant is the rock of the film, portraying a man being crippled by emotional pain that puts on a brave face and shows nothing but love for his wife in the direst circumstance. Riva gives an incredible performance as her character’s mind is trapped within a body that is almost completely paralysed and she is overcome by madness. The pain Riva conveys only using her eyes is soul-shattering.
Amour breaks any pretension that a miracle will save Georges and Anne from this situation. The Hollywood gloss is absent, leaving only the truth of the aging process. Haneke’s direction is superb as he uses several long takes to emphasis the struggle of his characters dealing with the simplest of tasks. Watching Georges attempting to maneuver Anne into a chair is like watching someone try to dismantle an atomic bomb. The specter of time hangs over every moment as it grinds away within the confines of Georges and Anne’s claustrophobic apartment (where a majority of the film is set). We do learn that Georges and Anne’s life together has been rich with photo albums full of pictures, they have daughter and there is a former student of Anne’s who has become a famous pianist. Despite life’s bounty though, it’s a slow countdown to the end.
Amour is an uncomfortable experience due to the subject matter but it’s a powerful piece of cinema that forces us to face confront death and something even worse; the prospect of outliving the love of one’s life.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies