Editor’s note: With Haneke’s latest masterwork finally hitting limited release this week, please fall in love with our AFI FEST review all over again, originally published on November 4, 2012.
In Michael Haneke‘s Amour, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are an older couple who have clearly been together for years, but their loving glances and compliments prove that, despite the years, the love they feel for one another has never faded. Their life together now is one of simple pursuits – a night out here or there, but mainly spending time with one another making meals or reading together in their Paris apartment. At first glance, this may seem like just another couple living out their later years with each other, but when Anne suffers a minor stroke at the breakfast table one morning, the extent and depth of their love is truly put to the test.
After an operation to prevent any future strokes fails, Anne is released home, where she makes Georges promise her that he will not let her go back to the hospital. Georges sets about to make their life as comfortable and normal as possible, despite the fact that Anne is now confined to a wheelchair and needs to sleep in a separate, mechanical bed — but one that Georges keeps pushed up against his own.
When Anne’s ability to speak is inhibited due to the right side of her face being paralyzed after a second stroke, the couple’s daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) begins to express her concern over their living conditions, worried that Anne is not getting the care she needs outside of a medical facility. It is clear both Georges and Anne are proud and dignified people, and Georges reminds his daughter that he also loves Anne and is doing everything in his power to care for her, as neither want to be treated differently, despite Anne’s worsening condition.
The scenes between Georges and Eva are some of the most heart-wrenching of the film. It is clear how difficult it would be to see your parents in such a state while at the same time how insulting it would be to have your love and ability to properly care for your spouse called into question by your own child. Amour offers no easy answers or solutions, just simply a glimpse into what it means to try to respect and care for the person you love most.
As Anne’s paralysis worsens and makes it difficult for her to do much more than sleep, it is both inspiring and heartbreaking to see how Georges always looks at her with the same amount of love he did when she was healthy. He talks to her as though nothing has changed, singing to her and telling her stories, and while he is certainly helping to change and feed her, he never babies her. There have been countless stories and films about couples first falling in love, but Amour shows us what it truly means to grow old together.
Riva delivers a transformative performance as she goes from a put-together older woman to one who can barely speak or swallow. Trintignant keeps pace as the constant beacon of hope in his and Anne’s life, all while reminding audiences he is also dealing with getting older, albeit in much smaller ways, from a slight limp to forgetting things here and there.
Haneke proves his skills handily here, allowing the more quiet and honest moments between Anne and Georges to shine no matter how uncomfortable or painful they may be to watch. Even though Anne and Georges are former music teachers, the use of additional music or score is never present in the film to distract from or influence the raw performances from Riva and Trintignant on screen. Haneke’s ability to stand back and let these moments speak for themselves mirrors Georges’s ability to stand back and abide by Anne’s final wishes.
The Upside: Haneke directs Trintignant and Riva in performances that feel as though they could have been taken straight from the stage, creating a film that is both memorable and incredibly impactful.
The Downside: Some of the more drawn out scenes could be shortened to keep the pacing a bit tighter while still retaining the feeling of what a drawn out and excruciating process losing a loved one can be.
On the Side: Amour won the Palme d’Or during the Canes Film Festival earlier this year and has already been selected as the Austrian entry for the upcoming Academy Awards.