THE LAST PICTURE BLOG

OCCASIONAL NOTES ON FILM

The final scene in Michael Haneke’s disturbing 2005 film Caché, which featured a middle class French couple who bizarrely receive videotapes of themselves through the post, is a perplexing conversation between two characters that takes place on the steps of a school. It is frustrating in that we are not party to the dialogue, even though Haneke wrote some for the scene and he maintains that the actors said it. Haneke has since confirmed that the unheard dialogue is important to the story but he has agreed with the actors never to reveal it or to publish a screenplay. The film therefore ends without an audience-satisfying reveal, leaving us guessing as to the true identity of the person that has been both recording and posting the tapes.

I mention this because it looks, at first glance, fairly innocuous. The sudden ending of the film after this scene comes as a surprise (if one considers cinematic conventions as opposed to the work of Michael Haneke), and caused many viewers to rewind, with most presumably wondering what had been missed. Haneke seems to revel in messing with the audience’s mind, showing clearly that there are always different approaches to take when watching a given scene, and each of these will affect the viewer’s interpretation considerably.

There’s a similarly innocuous-looking moment near the beginning of Amour, the film which earned Haneke his second Palme D’Or, and interestingly it feels essential to re-watch it after you have seen the rest of the picture as well: The fixed camera is wittily facing an entire theatre audience from the unseen stage as patrons take their seats for a piano concerto. Two of the attendees are Parisians Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), an elderly pair of retired music teachers, but it is difficult to work out at this stage who we should be looking out for in the sea of faces. (The movie opens with a fire crew breaking into Anne and Georges’ apartment, and they discover Anne’s dead body, with flowers scattered around her head; however we are not familiar enough with the character to spot her easily when the story winds back in time to the concert.)

The concert scene takes on an added poignancy when watched again after seeing the entire film. Familiarity means it is easy to pick out Anne and Georges second time round, and therefore the eyes ignore all those peripheral extras that confused the scene initially. As the couple applaud the entrance of a former pupil and concert pianist named Alexandre (Alexandre Tharaud) it’s noticeable that Anne’s right hand is jittery as she claps. Georges appears to spot it, glancing down on two occasions, looking slightly concerned. There’s no way you’d see this first time round, and Haneke skillfully reveals once again that context is everything.

After the concert, Georges and Anne arrive home to find their lock has been broken, although no possessions have apparently been stolen from their apartment. (This is interesting; it links well to the firemen breaking and entering at the start of the film, but also makes us wonder who or what has broken in, and why. Is it Death?) The following day Anne suffers a stroke, which leaves her blank at first, but it subsequently paralyses the right-hand side of her body. The rest of Haneke’s film details the care provided by Georges as Anne’s condition gradually deteriorates and she becomes reliant on her husband. Wheelchair-bound at first, eventually Anne becomes incontinent and then suffers a second stroke, more serious than the first, which leaves her bed-bound and incapable of coherent speech.

Amour is a film that really gets to grips with its weighty subject matter: life, love and death. Given that we see the body in the first scene, there’s no surprise as Anne’s condition worsens, and Haneke chronicles this deterioration poetically, yet he also features heavily the struggles that the couple now face with regard to previously mundane tasks such as eating, dressing and bathing. There are several moments of tenderness as the two slowly move around their high-ceilinged flat, and their conversations are both realistic and poignant. It is heartbreaking when Anne flicks through an old photo album and states ‘c’est beau – la vie…’, and equally it is incredibly sad when a frustrated Georges momentarily lets his anger take over and strikes his defenceless wife when she decides that she wants to die and will not take on any more liquids. Otherwise Georges is stoic, uncomplaining in his duties, having sworn a promise to Anne that he would not take her back to the hospital or put her in a home.

Trintingant – an actor who had not appeared on screen for 16 years – is superb as the dutiful, caring husband, growing frustrated with the apparently selfish behavior of his daughter Eva (Isabelle Hupert offering excellent support), who understandably wants her mother to receive professional care. Riva is perfect as Anne, believably revealing frustration at her lack of mobility and, eventually, indicating that she wants to die. I’ve never seen a more accurate representation of progressive dementia in a film, and her collection of multiple awards in 2012 and 2013 is completely deserved.

The most important ‘piece’ of Haneke’s film, after the two central performances, is the location. Nearly all of the film – aside from the theatre scene mentioned above and a brief moment on a bus – is set inside Georges and Anne’s apartment (Georges is seen in the corridor outside, but it is a dream sequence), and it becomes a character in its own right. By the end we are familiar with the layout and the decor, even down to the pictures that hang on the wall (the director focuses on these in one mournful sequence). The choice of angles ensures that certain aspects of the rooms are not revealed at first; there are several scenes set in the couple’s drawing room, for example, before a grand piano is shown to be standing by the window.

As a result of Anne’s lack of mobility, the couple essentially barricade themselves in; it is often said that victims of severe strokes can feel like they are imprisoned within their own bodies, and Haneke is perhaps alluding to this idea in the way he uses the apartment. They receive few visitors, and Georges stubbornly fights battles of will with his daughter and fires a nurse who handles his wife roughly; he is undefeatable in his own environment. As they become more entrenched in the apartment they gradually lose their love for other people and things in their life that they once cherished: their star pupil, their daughter, music…it all becomes immaterial as the illness forces them to focus on their remaining time together. However as Anne’s condition worsens there is even a huge strain placed upon the love that exists between the two of them; their relationship evolves all the way until the very end.

That end, when it comes, is both moving and beautiful. The final shots of the apartment, emptied of the life of its inhabitants and filmed from angles Haneke has avoided up until that point, is as breathtakingly sad as anything the oft-detached Austrian has made to date. It’s a fitting, sad end to a masterful study of life and death and of a couple’s love for each other. Amour is touching, weighty, graceful, unsentimental, intelligent and – thanks largely to the performances of Trintignant and Riva – utterly absorbing.

The Basics:

Directed by: Michael Haneke
Written by: Michael Haneke
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Isabelle Hupert
Certificate: 12A
Running Time: 125 minutes
Year: 2012
Rating: 9.4

14 Responses to “0123 | Amour”

  1. ckckred

    Nice review. This is a perfect movie in my opinion and my favorite Haneke film after Cache. I actually got to go to a special early screening attended by Haneke himself and manage to get his autograph.

    Reply
    • Popcorn Nights

      Thanks Charles. I completely agree, it’s a masterful piece of cinema. That’s really cool that you got his autograph – one to treasure, definitely, particularly given the quality of the film!

      Reply
  2. CMrok93

    Gosh, this is some pretty hard-hitting stuff. But there does ring a lot of truth to it, which makes it hurt even harder. Good review.

    Reply
    • Popcorn Nights

      Thanks Dan. I agree it’s a hard watch at times, and I think anyone that has been through something similar with their own relatives can’t help but be affected. Great film.

      Reply
  3. jjames36

    Great review. The performances are top-notch, and the scene (you mentioned) wherein the husband fires the nurse, amongst many others, are truly touching. I don’t know what grade I’d give this. But I do know it’s very good.

    Reply
    • Popcorn Nights

      Thanks Josh. I gave it a high score as I really do think it’s a magnificent film. I gave Don’t Look Now and Short Cuts the same mark and the only two films I’ve reviewed that have scored higher are Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Shining, so it’s in good company!

      Reply
  4. keith7198

    Fabulous review of an incredible film. A couple of months ago I did a second post on the film simply titled Revisiting Amour. A second viewing brought out even more of Haneke’s brilliance.

    It’s interesting that you brought up Cache. It is completely ambiguous at the end and I was actually one of those who was disappointed. I love the rest of the film but for me it was a type of movie that needed a little bit more closure. Well in Amour Haneke takes an entirely different approach. He shows you the ending in the very first scene. It’s bold and risky but it works like a charm.

    Amour is just incredible. It’s crushing and difficult to watch but it’s rewarding all at the same time.

    Reply
    • Popcorn Nights

      Thanks very much Keith. I will check out your two reviews now. Glad to hear the second viewing went down so well.
      I love the provocative nature of Haneke’s films, and the fact they make you think about them long after seeing them. I found the ending of Caché frustrating too, but it’s almost like an open-ended challenge to people, like ‘come on then, let’s hear your theories…’.

      Reply
  5. Three Rows Back

    That’s a fine review. Very observant and on the money in a lot of ways. I absolutely adored this film; in spite of it being a tough watch at times.

    Reply
    • Popcorn Nights

      Thanks Mark – I found it hard to watch too, which says it all about the performances; brilliant acting. A great film, and looks like a lot of people are in agreement.

      Reply
    • Popcorn Nights

      Well worth it – it’s an excellent film and I will put my hard-earned reputation on the line and say you will like it a lot. Possibly.

      Reply
    • Popcorn Nights

      Thanks Chris. Yeah I sat on it for a while too; I’m glad I watched it, but it’s as sad as you’d expect it to be.

      Reply

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