Monday, 18 February 2013
FILM REVIEW: AMOUR
Old age is one of those taboo subjects in film; it's rarely seen nor discussed in any real depth. But Michael Haneke's Amour asks -- forces -- us to look at this inevitable stage of life square-on as his two protagonists are faced with declining health and the spectre of death.No, Amour (Love) is not a date movie but it is a study of love, questioning just how far you would go in support of your significant other. Til death us do part: an actual promise or mere words?
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are a long-time married couple. Now retired music teachers, they live in a spacious Paris apartment which reflects their cultured yet modest lifestyle and tastes. They're only child (Isabelle Huppert), based in London, visits occasionally but the pair seem to keep themselves to themselves, with the occasional night out to a music recital.
Then one morning during breakfast, and mid-conversation, Anne blanks out. Georges can't seem to rouse her and when she "awakens" moments later he's somewhat annoyed. "Is this a joke?", he asks. "What?" Anne has no idea what's just happened. It's the first sign that she has suffered a stroke, and Anne's health is only going to worsen. Conversely, the bonds of their marriage, while severely tested, will strengthen.
Haneke adopts an unflinching approach to his story and his characters' predicament. The film is comprised of many long, still takes suggesting the unhurried pace at which Georges and Anne live their lives, and the slow decline of Anne's physical health (at first partially paralysed she worsens, losing the ability to speak). There is also no score; all music is incidental. Haneke is an unsentimental filmmaker but while Amour is unflinching, it is not an unfeeling film.
After the first stroke, which paralysed the right side of her body, Anne is assigned a wheelchair to aid her mobility. But a subsequent attack leaves her bedridden and she gradually loses her ability to speak. Georges, although hiring a nurse at first, feeds and dresses his wife and tends to her bathing and toilet needs. He is the dutiful and loving husband, but even his patience is tested: a slap to the face is mere child's play in the Haneke universe, but here, under these circumstances, is a shocking and violent act.
Trintignant and Riva deliver powerful yet subtle performances as Georges and Anne. Icons of French cinema -- both have been making films for more than half a century: Trintignant best known for A Man and a Woman (1966); Riva for Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) -- bring both an authenticity to their roles (they are not "playing" old), and that pang of sadness when we realise that, like us, they were once young, beautiful people with their lives ahead of them.
The silent stoicism of Trintignant and the physicality of Riva are impressive in there seeming simplicity but speak volumes even when neither does. Not for nothing has Riva been a mainstay throughout the 2012-2013 awards season (will she win the Best Actress Oscar at this year's ceremony, which just so happens to coincide with her 86th birthday?), but this is a double act, and any acknowledgement of one should include the other.
And neither would succeed without Michael Haneke. The Austrian director is fully in control of his medium: there is nothing in Amour that shouldn't be there; it is sparse and precise, unadorned and brutally honest.
Having won the major prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival with The White Ribbon, a two-and-a-half-hour, black and white film about the origins of evil in a pre-WWI German village, Haneke claimed the Palm d'Or again in 2012 with Amour, proving, along with his leads, that age shall not weary them though the years condemn.
Note: an edited version of this review appears on the Fuse Magazine website: