So I went to see a French-language film that’s about old people coping with health issues whilst chatting about classical music. Also, its title translates to “Love.” I’m talking about Amour, Austrian director Michael Haneke’s new film which has won the hearts of critics everywhere and even took home the Palme d’Or, which is like the Oscar for Best Picture but on a world cinema level rather than Anglo-American.
I guess that in a lot of ways it’s similar to Amelie, in that it’s French and begins with the letter “A.” Actually, other than that, it’s not like Amelie at all. Amour is a heart-wrenching, hauntingly realistic look at love in the face of death.
For any of the small handful of people that read this column each week and liked the fact that I reviewed rather than analyzed The Master two weeks back, you’re in for a treat! I’m totally at a loss as to how I could analyze this movie without giving everything away, and I don’t want to do that. I really think people should check this one out themselves and experience the finer details afresh. Below are my thoughts on some of the more overarching aspects, which won’t spoil anything.
So Amour is about a couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), who are in their winter season, so to speak. Anne has a stroke and faces increasing health issues as Georges tries to take care of her. As you can imagine, this premise is ripe for intense drama and emotion.
But as much as this could have been milked for enough tears to fill the Seine, Amour‘s greatest strength is its dedication to honesty and character. Haneke never takes the cheap route or goes for the melodrama. Anne’s struggle to accept her new health difficulties is expressed subtly by Riva through actions and dialogue, but never through over-stated speeches. Trintignant conveys more through his eyes than many writers could convey through monologue.
The cinematic techniques also really enhance the story. Haneke uses extremely long takes with very few cuts. Rarely do we see a close up.That basically means that the camera doesn’t cut from one angle to another often, and the camera usually isn’t very close to a single actor’s face or any particular object.
The effect of all this is that the viewer sees everything in intimate detail. It’s very realistic in that we get to see everything happen; we’re able to take in all that’s going on and understand how painstakingly long even the most minor things take. We empathize with both Georges, who’s hardly fit to care for Anne all on his own, and Anne, who’s hardly ready to give up her independence.
Another strength of how the characters themselves are handled has to do slightly with gender dynamics. “Woah,” you say, “you found something in a movie that has to do with gender? Shocking.” Yeah, I get it, I do this a lot.
Still, I was pleasantly surprised with how Amour handles this dynamic. I mean, consider the situation: an elderly woman finds herself increasingly unable to do things on her own, and her husband basically has to take care of her. Having the husband do everything for the wife would’ve been easy and strained the relationship but sacrificed the character.
And again, Haneke doesn’t take the easy route. Anne does everything she can to retain independence, whether it’s reading a book on her own or telling Georges that she can be alone for five minutes. We understand Georges’ need to watch her because she could have another stroke, or really anything could happen, but we also understand Anne’s need to feel like her own person. That might sound picky or overly-analytical of me, but I thought this was a good way to portray the new dynamic Georges and Anne have while not sacrificing their unique traits. The children represent a counter to this, as they want (reasonably) to see their mother in professional hands. They don’t get that Anne doesn’t want to rely on others for everything.
This movie is ultimately about love in every sense of the word, not just the feel-good, romantic aspect. This is about that deep caring and bond between people, but also about the loneliness it can cause, and moreover the difficulties. At a crucial point in the story Georges talks about a time when, as a kid, he felt terribly alone. That tale and the emotions it brings up reflects the title just as much as Georges and Anne holding hands, and that’s what makes the title more than just some pretentious art-house trick. Amour lives up to its ambitions because it understands the complexities of what it deals with.
Amour is an interesting experience. The style ranges from extreme realism to abstract storytelling. I’d love to go into more detail on that, but I want to leave this film as open for others as it was for me. I don’t know if Amour is quite as good as everyone seems to be saying it is, but I do know that it’s absolutely worth seeing for anyone that has a heart and a bit of patience for movies that are more slow burn than high adrenaline.
Next week I look at this year’s Perks of Being a Wallflower and the issues that face adaptations.