Introduction

Amour

Amour
  • Country of production: Austria / France / Germany
  • Year: 2012
  • Certificate: 12A
  • Director: Michael Haneke
  • Running time: 127 minutes
  • Official website: www.facebook.com/amourfilm
 

Amour is the disturbing and moving depiction of an elderly Parisian couple having to cope with the woman’s mental and physical deterioration following a stroke. Greeted with resounding critical acclaim, Amour is ‘a devastating, highly intelligent and astonishingly performed work… a masterpiece’ (Dave Calhoun, Time Out). Director and writer MICHAEL HANEKE won the Palme d’Or for it in Cannes this year, where Amour was described as ‘film-making at the highest pitch of intelligence and insight. Haneke's mastery and supremacy have resounded here in Cannes like an orchestral chord’ (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian).

Haneke had previously won the Palme d’Or in 2009 for The White Ribbon. Four more of his films have also been nominated, including Hidden (Caché) in 2005 and The Piano Teacher in 2001.

Amour opens with firemen kicking down the door of an elegant Paris apartment to find a woman’s corpse ceremoniously laid out on the bed, with flowers round her head. The remainder of the film recounts the events giving rise to this enigmatic scene.

Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are first shown at a piano recital; their subsequent conversations reveal their mutual affection and the contentment and fulfilment of their life together. Then one morning as they’re eating breakfast, Anne goes silent and doesn’t respond when Georges tries to attract her attention. When he goes to get dressed and fetch help, she suddenly comes round. She remembers nothing of this interlude, instead thinking that Georges is going mad.

Anne has a blocked carotid artery but when surgery to correct this goes wrong, she is left partially paralysed. She makes Georges promise never to take her back to hospital so, when she suffers further strokes and her condition deteriorates, Georges comes under increasing strain as he tries to care for her, with their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) offering little help.

Haneke revealed at the London Film Festival that he wrote the story because he had first-hand experience of something similar. The 90-year-old aunt who had brought him up wanted to kill herself and asked for his help. He refused and actually saved her when she tried to do this, but she later succeeded in taking her own life while he was away at a film festival.

Amour is Austria’s official entry in the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film category.

Re-view

Amour

LOVE AND LIFE

‘Trintignant’s face is etched not merely with the cares of age but dismay and fear; the person he loved and loves is vanishing before his eyes. As Anne’s life ebbs away, so does her identity: is their love itself beginning to be dismantled?’

(Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)

Amour displays Michael Haneke’s ‘austere, majestic visual style’ (Mary Corliss, Time magazine), which is etched throughout the film. ‘As ever, he is in absolute control, and… carves a sleek, marbled sculpture out of his material. Repeated here are the trademark shots refracted through mirrors or multiple doorframes, and down long, empty corridors; the elaborate recreations of bourgeois interiors; the intense spatial precision’ (Catherine Wheatley, Sight & Sound).

Haneke has built a reputation as an uncompromising director and has ‘trained audiences to expect bursts of sudden, unprovoked violence, giving his followers reason to fear for this gentle couple’ (Peter Debruge, Variety).

Lifetime of love

Yet Amour marks something of a departure. The unforgiving approach of earlier films has been supplanted by compassion, as we come to see the couple’s love for each other. ‘Amour emerges as a delicate and tender elegy for a lifetime of love’ (Catherine Wheatley, Sight & Sound).

Haneke’s portrayal of love as mature and lasting, rather than young and obsessive or fleeting, has been lauded. ‘Love is a concept for adults, not pop songs, more likely to inspire weeping than to set the pulse racing’ (Peter Debruge, Variety). Teenagers in love ‘may believe they are the only two people in the world, but this is the literal truth for Georges and Anne in their last days’ (Mary Corliss, Time magazine).

The couple are barricaded in their love-nest, prison, hospice and tomb; we never see them outside their apartment after the opening scenes. When they arrive home at the beginning, Georges notices that someone has tried to break into the house. ‘Over the next two hours Georges will prove that no outsider can break the cocoon he must create for his beloved’ (Mary Corliss, Time magazine).

Even their daughter, Eva, is little more than an annoying intruder. ‘Alternating hysteria and a conventional, teary reaction to Mum’s plight with a little chat about investments’ (Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter), her concerns bear no relation to those of her parents.

Lifelong leading lovers

The two leads, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, had never before appeared together on screen during their long careers but both portrayed lovers in landmark films as young actors. Riva played the nameless woman in Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Trintignant was the titular man in Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman (1966).

Here they ‘give the performances of a lifetime… Riva in particular exposes herself fearlessly, recreating Anne’s lack of physical control’ (Jonathan Romney, Screen International). Both are ‘subtle, unshowy performances in which every glance conveys both how deeply they care for one another and the mounting pain that Anne’s illness brings to their relationship’ (Peter Debruge, Variety). They generate the film’s compelling intimacy and complicity, as they invite the audience to explore their characters’ emotions.

Haneke has been praised for the subtle, measured manner in which he draws the drama and builds suspense.  He pulls no punches in depicting Anne’s condition (immobility, dementia, incontinence and so on) but there is ‘no trace of overstatement or sentiment’ (Jonathan Romney, Screen International) and he succeeds in enthralling the audience without recourse to obvious dramatic incident.

Amour confronts the cruel challenges of ageing and asks hard, fundamental questions about how one copes with the suffering of a loved one and whether life remains worth living. ‘Clear-eyed, cool-headed and profoundly humane, Amour is the consummate anti-weepie’ (Robbie Collin, The Daily Telegraph). ‘This is a film of delicacy and immense force… a hugely intelligent drama that tells it like it is about a subject most of us cannot bear to think about… It takes a director such as Haneke to make us grateful we did’ (Jonathan Romney, Screen International).

 
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Amour

 
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Amour

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