Movie Review: Amour
By Matthew Huntley
December 17, 2012
So does Anne, who grows tired and impatient with herself. After she suffers another stroke, she begins to speak nonsensically and refuses life’s basic ingredients like water. It’s clear she doesn’t want to live like this anymore and if she had the means and will power to end her own life, she probably would and we’d have no reason to blame her.
One of the best things Haneke does with Amour is resist turning its unadorned yet powerful story into wrought melodrama. A lesser movie might have dressed it up with flagrant symbolism or easy emotional buttons. But Haneke opts for naturalism, and by making the audience a quiet observer of their behavior, we come to fully empathize with Georges and Anne’s situation. Haneke employs long takes, diegetic-only sound and neo-realistic, non-functioning scenes to give it the flavor of real life. Why is this approach particularly striking? Why does it engage us? Because it triggers within us either a memory or speculation of something similar in our own lives, which makes it personal. Who among us hasn’t been a witness to a friend or loved one nearing death? This is something that’s universal among human beings, and even if we haven’t experienced it directly, the film at least reminds us of our own mortality and fragility. There’s a heartbreaking scene when Anne sifts through her old photographs and recalls how beautiful life is, reminding Georges and us just how fast it passes us by. On that level, the film is downright frightening.
The performances are beyond comparison. Trintignant and Riva, whom I’ve never had the pleasure of watching before, fulfill the roles of husband and wife, caregiver and patient so naturally we have to remind ourselves they’re actors. They embody Georges and Anne in their minds and hearts, and while it seems like the solemn material would call forth inevitable dramatic grandstanding, Trintignant and Riva suppress the urge.
It’s been said Haneke experienced a situation like Georges and Anne’s in real life. Honestly, I would be surprised if he hadn’t. Would a filmmaker have been able to capture its essence without having lived through it him or herself? I’m not sure it’s possible because it seems only firsthand truth could make this story so rich and pithy.
Amour is a film that touches us on a deep, inward level, so much that we ponder our own existence. Yes, the subject matter has a lot to do with it, which inherently calls for this type of response, but just because it calls for it doesn’t necessarily make it a given. It’s Haneke’s approach and the actors’ superb performances that flesh it out. They convince us love is not an intangible concept, but something that’s very real, for better or worse.