Our life is bound to be sad and depressing because of aging and subsequent death, and Michael Haneke’s new movie “Amour” shows that undeniable truth to us through an unsentimental but deeply harrowing observation of an aging couple who begin to directly face their mortality as well as the end of their loving relationship. Uncompromisingly and penetratingly looking at their losing daily struggles, the movie ultimately comes to us as one of the most honest and sincere dramas about a human condition at the end of our life, and it is difficult to watch at times for its unflinching attitude toward its grim reality.
When we meet Georges and Anne(Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) for the first time in the scene which strangely reminded me of that unforgettable closing shot in Haneke’s previous work “The White Ribbon”(2009), they are attending the piano concert of her former pupil. After they and other audiences have nice time with his performance, they return to their apartment where they have led an affluent and comfortable life for more than 50 years, and we sense how much they have been close to each other through their mundane conversation on the concert.
We come to learn more about them. Both of them are retired piano teachers, and the cozy environment at their home reflects well their cultural sophistication and professional success. They have a daughter named Eva(Isabelle Huppert, who is fabulous as usual even in a small role), and, though she cannot visit them often because she has been living abroad for years, Eva cares about their welfare, and they know that.
On one day, a small but disturbing incident happens. When Anne and Georges start another day in their kitchen, Anne suddenly falls into some sort of a comatose trance, which naturally disturbs George a lot. Fortunately, she comes back into a normal state in a short time while he looks for help, but Anne says she does not remember anything unusual. Georges becomes concerned about her, but Anne behaves as if nothing serious happened, although she seems to vaguely sense that something is not quite right somewhere inside her brain. The movie looks at this subtly ominous situation while maintaining that cool, calm approach we have seen from Haneke’s works, and that makes the incident on the screen feel as shattering and resonating as a single stroke of piano key in a very quiet concert hall.
It turns out that she has a medical problem which can be easily fixed by surgery, but there is some serious problem during surgery, and now we see Anne coming back from hospital in her wheelchair. She can move, but a part of her body is paralyzed, so it is Georges’ job to take her to the bathroom or change her clothes when a hired nurse is not around. Although she is considerably weakened, she has not lost her wit yet, so we get an amusing moment where George tells her about the funeral of an old friend he has just attended. They are aware of their mortality more than ever, and they try to live with that, but that is not that easy for them, as shown in the moment when her former pupil visits them privately.
And the test they are put into is far more difficult than they expect. Anne suffers a stroke, and then she gets worsened as the time goes by. Georges tries hard as a devoted husband, but he becomes more helpless and desperate about the deterioration of her health condition. They sometimes have good days, but Georges cannot deny that the woman he has deeply loved is being perished right in front of his eyes, and even his love and understanding are almost useless as his wife and the words from her mouth become more and more incomprehensible – and he cannot take her to hospital because she made him promise that he will not send her to hospital or center for aging people.
Their story now sounds pretty much like an ideal material for weepy melodrama, but that is the last thing you can expect from the director/writer Michael Haneke, who has kept exciting us with the series of stunning works during the last decade. “The Piano Teacher”(2001) was a compelling enigmatic character study on one twisted piano teacher, and “Caché”(2005) and “The White Ribbon” were terrific films which endlessly fascinates us with their icy enigmas beneath surface even when they seemingly look at their stories straight and clear under Haneke’s austere direction.
While it is a film with a far simpler story, “Amour” is no exception: confining his movie within Georges and Anne’s apartment, Haneke firmly focuses on the inevitable sad decline in their daily life as their world is slowly and grimly being closed upon them, and the realistic and intimate details shown on the screen are sometimes quite hurtful to watch. Even when she is losing herself, Anne is terribly well aware of her failing health condition, and there is a small but emotionally striking moment when her will and his opposing will clash with each other. She cannot stand her unbearable predicament any more, but he cannot possibly imagine of letting her go, and he eventually slaps her hard out of impatience and frustration. As some of you know, we are mad about the people we love because we care about them.
As the emotional anchor of the story, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give a masterful duo performance which is immensely helped by their illustrious film careers as well as their invaluable experiences with aging. Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was an unflappable prosecutor in Costa-Gabras’s “Z”(1969) and made a first big impression on me as a detached retired judge in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: Red”(1994), is going to have his 82nd birthday early in this month, and Emmanuelle Riva, who was the heroine of Alain Resnais’ “Hiroshima, mon amour”(1959), is 85 years old at present, and their old, wrinkled faces quickly establish their characters from the beginning. Riva is especially heartbreaking in one scene where Anne keeps saying one word to her husband, and Trintignant responds to her in a touching way which makes this scene devastatingly powerful.
“Amour” received Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, and it currently begins to garner several critic awards in US while being regarded as a strong contender for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in the next year(The main language of the film is French, but it is the official entry of Austria for the category). Supported by two graceful twilight performances and handled with top-notch direction, the movie penetrates deep into its subject with remarkably brutal honesty and almost painful intimacy as it never withdraws itself from its uncomfortable moments, and the result is one of the most memorable movie experiences in 2012.