Directed by Michael Haneke. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert 12A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 127 min
No one can prepare us for the wretchedness of morbidity – except, of course, Michael Hanneke. T ARA BRADYis left moved and shaken by the Austrian’s tough drama
MICHAEL HANEKE makes it clear where we are headed – where we are all headed – from the opening shot of the least evasive, but most moving, film of his career. Police break into an elegant Paris apartment to find an elderly woman lying dead upon her bed. It’s arguably one of Amour’s cheerier tableaux.
Haneke then skips chronologically back to the woman, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), and her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), both retired music teachers, attending a concert given by a former student. This is the only time the camera leaves the confines of their increasingly tomb-like residence. Not long after, Anne suffers a stroke and drifts into irreversible decline.
Occasionally frustrated, mostly unflustered, Georges sets about managing the pain and confusion. An awful wailing comes from the bedroom. Dignity proves hard to maintain.
The inter-textual games of Hidden and the historical sweep of The White Ribbon are dusted aside as Haneke focuses acutely on the grim responsibilities that romantic love kicks up. Though the director touches on happy moments in the couple’s past, Amour – shot in sombre greys by Darius Khondji – focuses closely on Georges’s efforts to make something bearable of an intolerable situation.
Like the discarded parents who shuffle their way through Tokyo Story, Anne and Georges only have each other. Isabelle Huppert’s abrasive turn as their fairly ghastly daughter stresses the point. Nobody can properly empathise when a genuine soul mate faces their end.
Riva and Trintignant are flawless in the leading roles. Still best known for her performance in Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, Riva creates a strong, warm character and – faintly miraculously – keeps it visible while disease strips away powers of communication. Trintignant, another great veteran of French cinema, engenders impressive degrees of sympathy for a man who doesn’t seem to like other people very much.
Is Amour a little too austere, a little two acutely focused? Scrupulously clean, appointed with uninvitingly pristine furniture, the apartment does eventually begin to take on the quality of a luxury morgue. Only in a Haneke film could a home look so scrupulously and oppressively ordered. The decor calls to mind the director’s 1989 drama The Seventh Continent, wherein a bourgeois family choose death and chaos over middle-class confinement. They, at least, had options.
It would, of course, be madness to ask Haneke to let us off the hook and take the characters for a walk in the park. Abhorrence of sentimentality is a bit of a religion for this great director. No film can
hope to prepare us for the pointless, oppressive wretchedness of morbidity. But the sincerely titled Amour comes as close as one could hope.
Slowly and quietly, the director’s 11th feature equals and surpasses all the emotional jolts once supplied by the exploding pig’s head of Benny’s Video. Just don’t expect The Notebook.