Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
(Reviewed at the CANNES FILM FESTIVAL): Michael Haneke’s new film Amour continues the German auteur’s decades-long fascination with a body being violated, and of how everyone is vulnerable to forcible surrender, provided there’s someone cruel enough to demand it (*there’s always someone cruel enough to demand it in a Haneke movie). A crucial point of difference is that, rather than conjure up a man-made catastrophe for an unsuspecting family unit, as he has done so effectively within thrillers like Hidden and Funny Games, here the formidable opponent is the ageing process and its insidious assault upon a beloved spouse’s mind and body.
The serious German turns his skills for astute observation into a solemn portrait of the humiliating demise of a proud music teacher, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). As she succumbs to a tumour and an ongoing series of strokes, her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), tries valiantly to preserve her dignity as best he can.
We know Anne's fate from the outset; Haneke flips the narrative to have us witness a team of emergency workers take to the door of a locked apartment with a battering ram, handkerchiefs at their nostrils, to discover Anne’s corpse. She lies serenely, dressed with flower petals and funeral suit, in the taped-shut master bedroom. What follows is an unsentimental look back at how this intriguing scene came to pass, as Anne and Georges navigate what will become the final months of Anne's life.
Watch interview with Emmanuelle Riva about 'Amour'
Save for a night out at the theatre to take in a former pupil’s concert, the action takes place entirely within the confines of the apartment, once Anne suffers a blackout over breakfast and, after a failed operation, makes Georges vow she’ll never see the inside of another hospital.
They may rib each other like the lifelong confidantes they are, but there is a proud defiance to Anne’s reaction to her changing circumstances, and a shy deference in Georges’ adjustment to his new role as homemaker and carer. When she interrupts their lunch by insisting that he fetch photo albums, his mild annoyance mellows ever so gradually, as he watches her survey the evidence of their union. 'It’s beautiful, life. So long... A long life." The blunt honesty of this appraisal – and many other consequences of her descent – is all the more affecting for Haneke’s observational style (lengthy shots, no score).
Isabelle Huppert has a small part as the couple’s absentee daughter, a flinty musician living abroad, who confesses to her father that she’s bothered by her philandering husband’s latest affair only because others know about it. When on a rare visit, she panics about her mother’s rapid demise, Georges doesn’t suffer her patronising interrogations gladly. His chiding leaves her with no doubt about what she can do with her insinuations that he’s not seeking the best treatment for his ailing wife.
As the film catches up to its beginnings, Haneke maintains a degree of ambiguity about the outcomes. He might get a bad rap for his apparent obsession with human suffering, but this investigation of it from dual-perspectives couldn’t be made by anyone else.
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France, Germany, 2012
Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva