Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
Director: Michael Haneke
Category: IIA (French)
People admire Michael Haneke's films, but no one actually enjoys them. They watch for his stark, unflinching dissections of the human condition, void of any artificial emotions or manipulative devices. With that in mind, Amour is probably the closest the Austrian auteur will ever get to being warm and fuzzy.
This year's best foreign-language film Oscar winner is an unromanticised unfolding of the last days of a couple in their 80s. Anne and Georges (French acting legends Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant, above) are living out their golden years in a huge Parisian flat. All is fine until Anne suffers a stroke that leaves her partially paralysed. It's up to Georges then to feed his wife, assist her in the wheelchair and handle all of the other daily necessities that are as common and banal as they are humiliating to the dependent person. And at their age, things don't improve. They deteriorate. Anyone who's ever had to care for a loved one in their final days will know intimately the sadness and helplessness of witnessing that person waste away, and lose the characteristics that constitute a decent life.
The small humiliations of being frail and aged are exactly the things Haneke is keen to confront with uneasy realism. There's the lingering single take of Georges helping Anne try to walk with a limp, his awkwardly pulling her dead weight from the wheelchair to an armchair and having to clean his helpless wife and pull up her underwear. It's the "... for better or worse, till death do us part" part of the vows that other romances ignore and that Haneke presents for heroic contemplation.
Riva may have gathered more acclaim and an Oscar nomination for her more daring part as the disabled stroke victim, but the power of the picture derives from Trintignant's quiet suffering as the husband. His hardship and toil extends to dealing with family members whose unintended selfishness is still hurtful, and well-meaning sympathisers whom Anna considers patronising and insulting.
A hint of his frustration is only raised when the idea of a hospice is approached. Georges is not emotional, he is not angry, but the tone leaves no room for further discussion. That's the Haneke method too.
Normally, one leaves his films in a depressed, morose and disturbed state of being. However in this case, one only hopes when the time comes that each and all of us will have someone to act in a way that Georges has the consideration and courage to do. That's what Amour is all about.