Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Cannes review of Amour by Michael Haneke

AMOUR/LOVE ***** Directed by Michael Haneke Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, William Shimell, Rita Blanco, Laurent Capelluto 127 min, playing in competition You didn’t need a degree in semiotics to deduce that the title of Ulrich Seidl’s creepy Paradise: Love, which played here on …

Sun, May 20, 2012, 11:44

   

AMOUR/LOVE

*****

Directed by Michael Haneke

Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, William Shimell, Rita Blanco, Laurent Capelluto

127 min, playing in competition

You didn’t need a degree in semiotics to deduce that the title of Ulrich Seidl’s creepy Paradise: Love, which played here on Friday, was intended ironically. That is not the case with the grindingly ascetic (even for this director) new film from Michael Haneke. Almost entirely contained within one up-market Paris apartment, Amour is a rigorously unsentimental study of the toll life extracts for allowing us to love. The press emerged from the morning screening to find grim clouds blowing icily across the Côte d’Azur. Even the weather seemed to agree we had just experienced something extraordinary.

Amour begins with an elderly couple, Anne and Georges, attending a classical concert. The next day, Anne experiences a brief blackout. It transpires that she has had a stroke. She continues to decline — thrown into a misery of desperate bellowing — while Georges stoically tries to cope with her increasing distance. In an early aside, Anne describes her husband as “a monster”. He is certainly robust in his attitude to his wife’s illness: in one horribly disturbing moment, he turns to violence; he ends up barring his slightly prissy daughter (Isabelle Huppert) from the sick bed. But his icy devotion is never in doubt.

It is a shame that Cannes rarely hands out prizes to more than one film. If Amour wins one of the top awards (which it almost certainly will) then Emmanuelle Riva, who offers a heroic turn as Anne, may miss out on the best actress gong. There will surely be no better performance this fortnight. Best remembered for appearing in Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour back in 1959, Riva somehow manages to suck the life from her own face over the course of the picture. It is asking a lot to demand that an actor make something watchable of blankness. Riva rises to the challenge admirably.

Jean-Louis Trintignant, who won best actor at this event in 1969, is no less impressive as Georges. His face never breaks. He does not give into rages. But torment leaks quietly from each pore.

Amour does, however, belong to the director. It is saying something to argue that this is the most austere film yet from the great Austrian director. Pictures such as The Piano Teacher and Hidden did, at least, have their moments of extravagant  blood-letting. Shot in gunmetal shades by the great Iranian Darius Khondji, featuring a largely static camera, the film progresses entirely through small, desperate moments. When the inevitable catastrophe arrives it rushes by in a hurried flash.

Haneke has long been glibly dubbed “the new Ingmar Bergman”. They are, of course, entirely different directors. But, while watching Amour, it is impossible not to think of morbid Bergman pictures such as Cries and Whispers and Through a Glass Darkly. Haneke’s tone is even more reserved and even less hysterical. One senses a director desperately afraid of making a scene.

If one were to offer criticism, one might note that, considering the subject matter, Amour is a little too cleanly scrubbed. Protracted deaths usually involve a few more bodily emissions. That lack of distracting grime does, however, make it easier to focus on the picture’s emotional core. Amour is surely now early favourite for the Palme d’Or. If we were previously in any doubt, Haneke is confirmed as the premiere European director of his generation.

 

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