The ever provocative, Austrian director, Michael Haneke, returns to our cinemas with his newest film, Amour. But is Haneke’s Palme d’Or winning film up to scratch?
Haneke has never been one to shy away from the cruel realities of ‘real life’ and his new film opens with a flash-forward which ultimately signposts the film’s ending (which isn’t a criticism). By doing so it informs how the film is to be viewed and adds greater poignancy to his examination of love, old-age and illness – and considering the age of the characters, it’s not an unexpected conclusion. Amour is a fairly bleak film, but if you’re familiar with the director’s other films e.g. The White Ribbon, Cache and Funny Games, that won’t be particularly surprising.
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Amour is the story of two elderly, retired music teachers, Anne and Georges, who are both in their 80s. The couple are fairly active and do not have the passivity, which is typically forced upon elderly characters in cinema e.g. the film begins with them attending a concert and returning home via the bus, where they debate the concert’s finer points. But from here on in, we see the devastating effects of illness in old-age, Anne suffers multiple strokes before the onset of dementia, which in no time at all, renders Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) bedridden and completely dependent upon her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).
One motif, which worked particularly well, was the sense of dread from an ominous, external menace e.g. burglars/strangers. This subtle reference, alluding to the actual menace upon the horizon, but that menace isn’t an external one, Anne and Georges’ threat comes from within – and from those that they let into their home. At one point, Georges reprimands a care worker for treating his wife poorly – somebody he hired. In general, society expectantly, has little do with Anne and Georges, their daughter – played by Isabelle Huppert – barely visits and their only other visitors are some kindly neighbours, who purchase their shopping but offer no other form of support. As with death, it seems in old age we are also on our own, abandoned by almost everybody.
The film builds towards an obvious crescendo, but one of the most disarming features of Haneke’s film is in its depiction of amour, of love, but not the folly of youthful, romantic love, which typifies cinema. The love depicted in Haneke’s film is one which is centred upon two people who have been together for a very long-time, which isn’t to say the romance between them has fizzled, just that the film centres upon a deeper, less shallow depiction of love.
Amour is a hauntingly beautiful and challenging film, with some outstanding acting from Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Haneke continues to be one of the most thought provoking directors at work today – cinema salutes you, sir!