Genre: Drama, Romance
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva
For five minutes after the film had finished not a person spoke or moved in the audience. This is a tremendous, overpowering achievement.
Michael Haneke’s Amour is an overwhelming piece of cinema, depicting the marriage of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Georges and Emmanuelle Riva’s Anne, two retired music teachers who live in their elegant, Parisian apartment. The film is a heartfelt reflection on humanity, love and age, presented in uncompromising realism against an artistic backdrop.
The leads, bearing the weight of much of the film between them, give extraordinary performances with much of the emotional power emanating from their delicate chemistry. They become a real couple, their book lined flat connoting the richness of the life they led. Early scenes show this relationship momentarily untouched from the disease that decays Anne’s identity, leaving Georges in a state of fear for the future of their love.
These brief sections give Riva’s character a short amount of time before she becomes ravaged by illness, bereaving both Georges and the audience of the Anne they fell in love with, and ultimately, had all too little time with. Scenes with Anne’s former protégé witnessing her poor health resonate this further and create a sense of grief, both marvellously and heart wrenchingly close to reality. While Riva’s Oscar nomination is entirely worthy, Trintignant’s lack of a nod is a shame, as he anchors the film with a quiet performance of a man pushed to extremity. His face, painted with heartbreak, encapsulates the joy of a love lived and the yearning for one lost.
It is Haneke’s mastery of these performances, showing them in the echo-y halls of the home, that really exemplify Amour as a unique piece of cinema. The camera, unrelenting but not intrusive, watches from a distance telling much of the film through captivating long takes. The effect (at times admittedly frustrating – perhaps mirroring the life depicted) cuts out the screen of the cinema in an age where 3D and CG crush any suspension of disbelief. Here, relentless realism creates proximity with characters through a cinematic window into a real world.
An early shot mirrors the cinema audience, drawing direct parallels to reality. In the frame, Georges and Anne are hidden in the audience, inviting the viewer to find them and evoking more thought and care in one frame than is present in the entirety of most films released today. The reflexivity here encapsulates cinema’s ability to cause us to look inwards by presenting us with a direct view of ourselves.
Amour is difficult to watch but out of its unflinching embodiment of the personal, and of its portrayal of themes that will affect the whole audience it mirrors at the start, it becomes an important work of modern cinema. It is a film that, largely due to it’s stars lifetime of experience, portraits humanity and reminds us of cinema’s ability to resonate and to unite.
In a scene mid way through the film, Georges, who enigmatically has refused to break down under the weight of his situation, chases an intrusive pigeon around the apartment, attempting to capture it to release it back into the wild. While romantically symbolic of the film’s themes, this perhaps symbolizes Haneke himself, dealing in an austere, calmly manner with a plausibly real situation. Deftly, with some loving humour, Georges and Anne deal with their love as Haneke carefully and poetically affects his mastery of cinema.