A masterpiece, but so devastating that I wouldn’t blame anybody if they said they weren’t up for it. Amour (Austrian, French language in English subtitles) is about the final days of an elderly couple together. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are the long-married octogenarian couple facing the unwanted final stages of old age. Director Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher,” “Caché”) shoots with an unyielding directness, capturing long gazes as the wife Anna goes from active and alert in an introductory scene, to carotid malfunction, to paralysis on the right side of her body, to dementia. She at one point takes a conscious rejection of her husband Georges’ care, uttering the desire to die.
People from the outside, including their daughter, visit for a few minutes to offer their opinion of how Georges is doing a bad job caring for his wife. If they were only there hour after hour to see what he goes through. He is the only one that has spent 24 straight hours with her, and beyond. He momentarily brings aboard a licensed caregiver that he must fire. The caregiver is said to be mistreating the wife, but according to her, Georges must be old and senile. Nobody knows of his dedication. Nobody knows either that after decades of marriage, only Georges would know how to interpret Anna’s unspoken communication.
There is love. In some of the more touching passages, Georges opens up with stories from inside himself that have been locked up his entire lifetime. They were too embarrassing to share, but now he does with his wife when she is at the end. He can share with his wife not just the stories, but the humility. Trintignant (age 82 now) has acted for decades but has been missing from the screen for years. In the 1994 Polish masterpiece “Red” he played a judge who was discovered by others that he had been a voyeur for years, tapping in on peoples’ conversations. These are the two best pieces of his career, both performances embodying long dormant shame.
For Riva, she has a career that goes back even longer. Most famously for Riva “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” (France, 1959), which dealt with mass deaths and survival in the aftermath of the WWII Tokyo bombings. Sixty-plus years later, Riva at 85 could become the oldest actress to ever win an Oscar. She is required to be indolent and yet put up a fight within. We see her slip away gradually from a woman who had sentimental recall of her life’s accomplishments to a woman grasping on to rudimentary comprehension of herself facing death.
The shocking scene of the film is seeing Georges lose patience with his wife. The film cuts away to some paintings, one is a moving painting. These avante-garde shots don’t have any absolute interpretation, yet for me, it was about imagining if we lived in an ancient past, a time before judgment. To add another thought, perhaps we don’t see ourselves in the context in the history of the world until we’ve approached death.
This is the kind of viewing experience that will be agonizingly stillborn and claustrophobic for some, and yet I find it courageous that it doesn’t back away. The meaning of the film will vary for many, and if you haven’t dealt with sick loved ones in your family, than perhaps it is not time for you and “Amour.” Or maybe it is time, before you get there. Georges is giving everything to his wife Anna that he can. He has known his wife his entire adult wife, a nurse or doctor has not. What happens in the final hours is Georges and Anna’s rightful privacy. Georges has loved her, he has conjoined her spiritually in the course of a lifetime. He is undeserving of our judgment.
127 Minutes. Rated PG-13. French in English subtitles.
FOREIGN FILM / FOOD FOR THOUGHT / MASTERPIECE VIEWING
Film Cousins: “Make Way for Tomorrow” (1937); “Wild Strawberries” (1959, Sweden); “Cries and Whispers” (1973, Sweden); “A Woman’s Tale” (1991, Australia).
- Click here to read first impression September 2012 preview article.
- Click here to read Michael Haneke interview.