Michael Haneke is an extremely talented Austrian director who has had a few well known and regarded movies. I’ve always admired him more than I’ve directly liked him (an admittedly difficult to define distinction, but shut up I have a point). The reason I never quite crossed over into liking him, is because all of the films of his I’ve seen (The Seventh Continent, Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, White Ribbon) have one thing that unites them: They are all designed to make the audience HURT. And Amour, while an extremely well made and incredibly acted film, is not an exception.
The plot is concerned with Georges and Anne, an elderly French couple. One day Anne has an unexplained stroke, which leaves her with brain damage. She returns home with left side paralysis, forcing her husband to care for her as her condition worsens rapidly. Yeah, doesn’t that sound cheerful?
Yes, we’re all aware (or at least I am) that Haneke is very fond of bleak films, with themes of alienation and isolation, but he commits to them here in a way I haven’t seen a filmmaker commit to a theme in a while. The film never leaves the apartment where all the action takes place, and actions that take place outside of the apartment (or even the main character’s hearing, more on that in a moment) are only told second hand. This, combined with Haneke’s signature long held wide-shots and lengthy pans, help to create the atmosphere of the film. But what elevates it above nearly all of his previous work (aside from possibly White Ribbon) is the slightly element of hope against the horror, the element of…well it’s right in the title, isn’t it? Eh, I won’t spoil it, see the movie for yourself.
Emmanuelle Riva is getting the most attention, as she has the showiest role. Her part requires her to play a character whose mind and body are slowly slipping out of her control and she plays it like a champ. A scene towards the end has her emoting through her breathing. It’s an incredible performance and she deserves all the recognition she’s getting. But she’s not the main character believe it or not. Yes, the actual main character is the husband, as the film essentially never separates itself from him and on at least a few occasions, goes inside his head (for a dream sequence that is actually one of the most memorable moments of the film) to give us a more intimate understanding of him and his pain and issues during the events of the movie. His acting is more understated, but no less impressive and it’s a bit of a crime that he’s not getting as much recognition.
Is it a film without its flaws? Of course not, almost no film is without flaw (this one is mostly a little long towards the end, but it still works) but I’m not interested in really discussing them at length. This is an incredibly made film, an intense, depressing and ultimately emotionally draining film with perhaps a tiny bit of hope and light towards the end of the tunnel. If you think you can sit through it without wanting to kill yourself, I highly recommend it. It’s going to have at least one Oscar under its belt by the end of month (it will win Best Foreign Film. It is a certainty) so you might as well see it before then, just to say you did. Besides, emotionally exhausting films are often great films, and while they might not be the most pleasant to watch, the world would be much poorer for their absence.
Elessar is a 23 year Alaskan born cinephile and he’s officially seen all the Best Picture Nominees.