I’ll admit, I had never seen a Michael Haneke film before Amour, but I immediately understood the heaps of praise that’s been loaded upon the Austrian director’s latest film when the credits started to roll. Amour, literally “Love” in French, is an unflinching examination of what it means to carry out the full extent of long-kept vows, namely “til death do us part”. The film opens on a shot of police officers breaking into an apartment and reacting to the rancid smell throughout. They stumble upon the corpse of an old woman lying on the bed, surrounded by an assortment of flowers, and then the title card appears in simple white lettering against a black background. It becomes clear that this film isn’t concerned with the end result as much as the process of getting to this end. We flash back to the old woman, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), quietly eating breakfast with her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). When Anne begins to stare vacantly, not responding to her husband’s pleas of concern, his sudden realization is heartbreaking. She snaps out of it a minute later, having no idea the incident had even happened. This slow disillusionment of life and the desperation of a man trying to care for her as long as he can becomes the conflict of Amour.
For uncomfortable periods of time, the film dwells on shots of hallways, windows, rooms, emptiness. This discomfort is intentional, and accurately matches Anne’s slow deterioration. Through nurses and hairdressers, personal shoppers and aides, Georges does everything he can to ease Anne’s physical and mental struggles, but as her speech becomes incomprehensible and her vivacity disappears, he begins to lose hope. It’s hard to watch, for sure, but his realization is realistic in such a way that can only be accomplished through patient and honest storytelling. There are no moments of hope, where we might think she could be getting better. A lesser film would have pandered to its audience by flashing back to happier moments or making her miraculously return to a state of healthiness. Haneke isn’t interested in telling that story though; even in its most painful moments, the film truly is about Love with a capital L through thick and thin and knowing what’s best for one’s spouse in their darkest days. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give two of the best performances of the year, the latter very much deserving of the Oscar nomination she received days ago. The film truly is a master-class of honest filmmaking, standing out significantly in an industry filled with escapist fluff and forced happy endings.
MVPs: Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant