Devastating, Intimate Amour Lives Up to Its Title
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are retired music teachers in their 80’s. They have been married for a very long time. They have a daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who is herself a celebrated musician living abroad. They do not see her as much as they would like but revel in each of her visits all the same, dissecting every aspect of her life in the way only loving parents can.
Emmanuelle Riva in Amour © Sony Pictures Classics
One day Anna suffers a debilitating stroke, losing control of one side of her body and is relegated to moving around in a wheelchair. Georges does everything he can to take care of her, following the doctor’s advice while also promising to his wife he will never put her in a hospital, something she is deathly afraid of. But as things get worse for Anne, her husband becomes increasingly worried he will not be able to live up to his oath, her suffering tearing him apart even as his selfless devotion to trying to ease her pain anyway that he can only increases day-by-day.
Few films have ever taken as unflinching a look at growing old as writer/director Michael Haneke’s Amour does. The man behind The White Ribbon and Funny Games never pulls his punches, isn’t afraid of showcasing the basest and most barren of emotions. He is as focused and as unsentimental a filmmaker who has ever stepped behind the camera, his unblinking eye as razor sharp as ever as he pieces this story together bringing it to the type of devastating conclusion crafted to engender the most startling of dramatic impacts.
Yet, for all the pain, for all the pathos, Amour more than lives up to its title as the sacrifices Georges makes for Anne are as typify the type of selfless all-encompassing love we all like to think we’re capable of, especially in regards to those we supposedly hold nearest and dearest to our hearts. There is a sad, melancholic triumph to be found in this husband’s actions and in many ways he is a greater hero than any of the comic book creations that have littered cinema screens repeatedly over this past decade. He more than rises to the occasion, and while some of us would likely make choices and decisions different than his at the very same time it’s doubtful just as many don’t intimately understand them all the same.
Trintignant and Rivas are cinematic royalty, both making semi-recent appearances in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy (he in Red, she in Blue) in careers spanning over a half-century where they have worked with directors like Roger Vadim, Claude Lelouch, Eric Rohmer and François Truffaut while also appearing together a number of times including indelible performances in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist and Roger Spottiswoode’s Under Fire. They have appeared in some of the greatest films to have ever graced the silver screen, their commitment to their craft as remarkable as it is long-lasting.
They do not disappoint here. Trintignant gives a breathless performance, as multifaceted as it is nuanced. He throws himself into Haneke’s world with absolute sincerity, never wavering or waffling as he pushes his own demons and sorrows into the depths of the interior going above and beyond for his beloved the only way he knows how. Every move, every glance, every step of the journey, all of it is something extraordinary, the actor disappearing so completely into his performance a viewer could be forgiven for imaging they are watching some sort of secretly photographed documentary exploration of aging instead of a fictional enterprise.
As for Rivas, words cannot express what I feel in regards to her performance. This is as gigantic a tour-de-force as any that has graced the screen in some time. The actress, always a scene-stealer, does so much with so little, her transformation as heartbreaking as anything a person could possibly imagine. The way this stroke slowly devastates her, the way her faculties, her abilities to do all that she loves and hold deal bit-by-bit vanish into the ether, Rivas makes all of this wrenchingly believable, the emotional interiors of her character always visible even as the outward signs become more and more difficult to ascertain.
In many ways, as theatrical as this scenario may sound, Amour might be the most cinematically embellished of any motion picture in all of Haneke’s career. There are some startling dream sequences, moments of memory, bits of the intellectual and emotional puzzle that the director isn’t afraid of exploring. There are some visual flourishes that stopped my heart taking me completely by surprise, all of it leading to the type of climax that had me unsuccessfully holding back tears as true love exacts its penultimate toll.
Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour © Sony Pictures Classics
Haneke’s movies are not easy; they do not go down like that proverbial spoonful of sugar. All of that is fine as far as I’m concerned, the man such a gifted filmmaker that his travels dissecting the human condition are close to essential viewing for any cineaste worth their salt. Amour is close to a crowning achievement, and while it is impossible to say which film of his ranks as best to call this effort one of the top two or three of 2012 is hardly an understatement.
Film Rating: êêêê (out of 4)