On many levels, Amour is Michael Haneke’s most humane and relatable film. The director who’s explored such non-universal topics as sexual deviancy (The Piano Teacher), blackmail (Cache), and the horrors of home invasion (Funny Games) this time turns his attention to old age. We all must die one day, and therefore the plight of retired music teachers Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) takes on far greater relevance than these prior unusual premises. In true Haneke form, however, the topic plays out with a brand of brutality all its own. Despite the titular admiration the old married couple share as they go downhill, the film boils down to two hours of wallowing in their misery, making it arguably the director’s most painful work yet.
Clearly the vision of a director with a specific end result in mind, Amour is a confident and meticulously crafted film. Professional in all regards, whether Haneke’s distinct style is one that viewers find appealing, though, depends on one’s capacity for emotional torture. Opening with policemen busting down the doors of Anne and Georges’ attractive Paris apartment, the hardships begin with their discovery of Anne’s corpse in the couple’s bed, outlined in flowers. The story then jumps back an ambiguous number of months to when her health began to decline, and decline it does.
With George faithfully at his wife’s side, Anne’s condition necessitates assistance with eating, bathing, using the restroom, and numerous other daily activities. Throughout the ordeal, Riva lays her physical and emotional selves bare with commendable courage, easily warranting the praise heaped on her performance since the film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2012. Witnessing her struggles, there’s an impulse to laud the film for the depth and realism with which its taboo subject is explored. Death is no picnic and Haneke has zero interest in shying from the process’ darkest details. Typical of the director’s work, the couple’s genuine pain forces an extended meditation on one of life’s less pleasant aspects, an honesty that renews his place in a certain elite class of artists. The trade-off with Haneke’s films, however, is that as the drawn out scenes pile up with no trace of hope, the portrayal grows so bleak and tedious that viewing it becomes a chore.
All but guaranteed to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Amour is a master class in melancholia. Going where few filmmakers dare (which suggests that the majority may simply know better), Haneke stays true to his ideals and is sure to polarize audiences yet again. Bravery and introspection aside, there’s little of merit here, and though accolades may suggest otherwise, this is bitter medicine that by no means must be ingested.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language.
Amour is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
Category: Asheville film