Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, William Shimell
Release date: October 24th, 2012
Distributors: Artificial Eye, Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 127 minutes
Best part: Powerful performances by Trintignant and Riva.
Worst part: The film’s monotonous pace.
Events such as death and taxes are inevitable. But when they hit it’s hard to control their wrath. The negative aspects of life are important to Austrian director Michael Haneke. His latest, Amour, depicts a story about how even the most fulfilled people can strenuously suffer in the end. Amour is a poignant drama that, unfortunately, takes too long to reach its inevitable conclusion.
Former music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) live a quaint existence. They spend their retirement in a small apartment overlooking Paris. They still love the arts and frequently spend time out on the town. That is until Anne’s health starts to cause them problems. One morning, she sits down to eat breakfast with her husband. During their conversation she spaces out and falls into a catatonic state. She eventually succumbs to multiple strokes and partial paralysis. Confined to her bed, Anne is taken care of by Georges. Georges must ease Anne’s pain before her life reaches its painful end. Films about the elderly are either up-beat or dour. Amour definitely fits into the latter category. Haneke’s body of work is filled with movies that both amaze and anger. With his cult-hit Funny Games, he depicted a home invasion whilst pointing the finger at the reality-TV-loving viewer. Cache(Hidden), on the other hand, explored both stalking and domesticity. The pacing and thematic issues of his other films are also in Amour.
Amour has good intentions. There is no denying that this love story is both personal and affecting on many levels. This is a realistic situation that is hard to discuss. However, it also discusses an issue that doesn’t have enough energy or tension to be presented on the big screen. Without any cinematic depth or investment, it becomes a very tedious and, at points, confusing film. It’s baffling that this film has garnered so much acclaim. The fact that it won the Palme d’Or (best film) at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, let alone that it’s nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, is a real eye opener. It fits the stereotype that a lot of ‘popular’ foreign films fall into. A Beautiful Mind discusses both mental illness and relationships in a much more enthralling manner. Haneke’s style is this film’s hindrance. Haneke loves breaking the fourth wall. Not in a glaring way, but in a much more subtle and profound fashion. His camera becomes a fly on the wall. His contemplative and discomforting direction may seem like an optimum choice. But it slows this film down to a crawl. Many scenes are overly long. For some reason, he loves both the intricacies of reality and life’s slow pace. Despite his issues, it’s rare that a well-known director can be anywhere near this subtle. The camera stays still throughout the film’s excessive 2 hour and 7 minute run time. In some scenes, his cinematography is atmospheric and beautiful. Only one or two shots are used for every scene. It’s a touching choice that allows the viewer to objectively view this story.
“Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.” (Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), Amour).
Despite the lack of tension or thrills, it’s still an immensely rewarding experience. Unlike a lot of films made today, Amour never falls off balance in any way. It’s witty when it needs to be whilst building to its inevitably depressing finale. It’s a dialogue heavy yet profound narrative. Georges and Anne manage to charmingly reflect on their lives. George’s description of a friend’s funeral service, for example, is both hilarious and identifiable. The film, however, never goes into great detail about relationships. Their relationship is never given any back story. Haneke’s slice-of-life direction only paints a detailed yet narrow portrait of their current situation. What works about this film, above all else, is the characterisation. Haneke and the actors have created a heartening character study. Georges is man blinded by determination and obsession. His moral and ethical codes lead him to make seemingly immoral decisions. Marriage is the only positive part of his life. In this situation, it’s understandable that he would irritate everyone around him. At one point, he slaps his bed-ridden wife. Not to be unlike-able or abusive, but because he is angry about her debilitating condition. Interactions between him, Anne’s nurses, and his daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) become frighteningly realistic. The only part of Amour worthy of an Oscar nomination is Riva’s breath-taking performance. Embodying every stage of Anne’s condition would’ve been a monumental task. Riva’s charming personality shines through every alienating and claustrophobic scene.
Amour is a confusing, dull yet profound film. Its interesting premise is let down by the execution. Haneke’s signature and controversial style has already enraptured critics. But the film’s lack of dramatic intensity most definitely won’t be for everyone. Sadly, the narrative isn’t interesting enough to be placed on the big screen.
Verdict: A potent yet tedious love story/character study.