En résumé : On ne peut que saluer cette production de Michel Haneke qui dépeint avec justesse et force la lutte d’un couple face à la maladie. Une palme d’or bien méritée.
I had dithered as to when and whether to see Amour, given director Michael Haneke’s flair for the emotionally brutal. It was liable to make for a pungent watch; something that demanded handling with care and not just slotting in at the end of a long day. Eventually I just bit the bullet, though, and took myself to the cinema next door, the day before it was due to be taken off the big screen and into the cupboard screening room. I was duly duffed up by the power of the performances, and the beauty of this eloquent exploration of Amour.
A well earned Palme d’or.
Amour is set entirely within a bourgeois Parisian home that was closely based on the Viennese home where Haneke grew up. It portrays the terminal degenerative illness of a retired music teacher Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), whose husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), also a retired music teacher, promises to care for her at home, come what may. The portrayal of their struggle with the physical and mental betrayals of old age while their souls remain so young is compelling and, as expected, unflinching. There is an undertone of rebellion and fury more commensurate with raw teenage angst than the worn-out clichés of old age; more evocative of the iconoclasm of a burgeoning counter-cultural movement than the quiet backwaters of bourgeoisie evoked by the film’s setting.
This is an old age that refuses to be swept under the carpet and mindlessly ‘othered’; the camera delves in deep. In coping with their situation the actors draw on all the courage, stubbornness, playfulness, sensitivity and educated guesswork of a life intelligently and meaningfully lived. Such ‘success’ in life makes it all the more unnerving to see their struggle, as there are few grounds for viewers to discount their struggle as failing to be ultimately relevant to them, too. The couple lived well, gave and received from the world, are comfortably off yet modest; nothing went ‘wrong’, their love has endured but its greatest challenge has waited until the end. Does love endure? Yes, but at such a price.
Chérie, should we try to run off to a Hollywood romcom?
Others struggle to help the couple and their shortcomings range from the clumsy yet well-intentioned, to the morally abhorrent. It’s one of those films that regularly leaves you wanting to intervene; it’s uncomfortable to feel so impotent. The film both rages against that ‘dying of the light’, but refuses a life without dignity or autonomy. The questions of selfishness and selflessness in the face of illness are brought to life compellingly: for whom and for what is Anne supposed to go on living? She refuses to see her well-meaning but overwrought daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) any longer; Eva bursts in anyway on her mother, who withers further at the shock.
Amour goes far beyond docudrama, despite the narrow focus of the action and the blow-by-blow nature of its depiction. That kind of a production would still raise important social questions, and presumably elicit a range of responses going from eye-rolling to hand-wringing. This would overlap with Louis Theroux’s excellent recent ‘extreme love’ documentary on Alzheimer’s disease, which I also highly recommend. Amour is a profusion of pirouettes of the camera, exploring particularly taboo areas in today’s hyperactive, doggedly youth-oriented society. It’s slow and agonizing, yet seething with energy – a masterpiece for the big screen.