Film review: Amour

Amour
2012
Wega Film, Les Films du Losange, X-Filme Creative Pool

STARRING Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
WRITTEN BY Michael Haneke
PRODUCED BY Margaret Ménégoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz
DIRECTED BY Michael Haneke

SHOT BY Darius Khondji
EDITED BY Monika Willi
DISTRIBUTED BY Sony Pictures Classics

Screened 2012-12-17

Amour

It’s always a relief to see a Haneke film. I can rest comfortably over the uninflected opening credits and enter the story, devoid of constrictive scoring, knowing Haneke will never pander or retreat into sentiment, and will leave all final words to myself. He’s probably the most respectful director I’ve encountered. It was particularly painful to witness him, for some reason in attendance, ever achromatic, brow impatiently furrowed, in a Hollywood Reporter Screenwriter Roundtable grouped with John Krasinski, Judd Apatow, Mark Boal (seen here as a smug little shit), David McGee, and Chris Terrio, and to listen to the ill-equipped moderator bungle through his lengthy, rank freshman inquiry to the director, and then to see them all sit uncomprehendingly through Haneke’s thoughtful, elaborate reply as it is transcribed for translation. This is what it means to be recognized by the Academy. “Honorable Mention goes to… Michael Haneke! Better luck next time, chum.” His film could win Best Foreign Feature this year – it’s been publicized enough – so it’s just a question of whether or not the geriatric Academy population feels like genuflecting at the stark artist, or smiling alongside the easy good vibage of Monsieur Lazhar.

Ahem. Firemen break down the door of an appointed Parisian apartment to find it evacuated save one room: the tomb. A withered corpse surrounded by flowers lies prostrate on a bed. What is the cause of death? Back in time we go to witness Anne and Georges return to their appointed Parisian apartment from a performance of Schubert’s first Impromptu in C-Minor (D.899) from Anne’s former, now star pupil Alexandre Tharaud (played to a T by real life pianist Alexandre Tharaud). An unknown force has left scrapes on the lock of their front door – a simple attempted break-in? – and is never addressed again. And the next morning at breakfast during a perfectly ordinary conversation between the couple, Anne lapses into a kind of empty fugue state to awaken minutes later with no memory of it, and the next time we see her is in a wheelchair as she is returned from the hospital for an operation on an obstructed carotid artery. This much is explained to us by Georges to the couple’s visiting daughter Eva, played by Isabelle Huppert, lovely to see you. Anne knows enough to know what’s coming – a rapid degeneration – and she forces Georges to promise to never again take her to the hospital; she even later half-heartedly suggests to Georges that she be put out of her misery. So now those opening shots come into a bit of relief, but you’ll still have at least an hour’s worth of material before the film ends, when Anne dies. The intervening material will consist of Haneke’s challenge to you: how much dignity are you prepared to show the dying, how deficient are our standards, how far does our mercy extend? It’s a real romp. It won the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at Cannes 2012, as many interested parties will know full well.

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It’s a quiet film, a measured exercise (and not an unexpected one). Haneke frequently frames shots at a medium or long length and keeps the camera static, knowing how to best to serve his audience of voyeurs. 99% of Amour is experienced inside the couple’s apartment but as Anne degenerates we retreat further inward, spending some time in the kitchen and hallways but eventually seeing little more than the bedroom and bathroom. The prison-like nature of infirmity certainly does make this viewer squirm and feel immediately compelled to address those terrible issues that will one day loom (ideal solutions that spring to mind are vast sums of money and dedicated acolytes). Adding to these feelings is, of course, the film’s soft lighting so often seem in the piano parlor, the gentle funereal shroud that strikes the sentimental as ethereal and the hard-nosed as banal. Haneke is shrewd enough to know, though, that film is nothing more than three things: time, space, and ideas. Bow to these shrines, pray to these deities, play with these in your films.

There is also a ‘very Haneke’ montage, maybe 3/4 of the way in, of Impressionist paintings which take up our entire view. The significance of this sequence may vary dramatically between viewers; I personally thought it might be Haneke’s uncompromising way of mocking the value we place on art – a painting being just another object in the face of the Void – though I hope he was saying more. A statement about a more idealized existence which is, perhaps, a bit more pastoral, reverent, beneficent? It’s, as always with Haneke, up to you. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt some noticeable stirring during this montage, and during much of the rest of the film, which called to mind Haneke’s [fantastic] first film, The Seventh Continent, about a disaffected young couple who suicide because they cannot abide living a life only made up of mechanical minutiae – brush your teeth, go to work, rear the child. It is unthinkably tiresome and even dehumanizing sometimes, and that is much of life. Could Amour be a companion piece, even an answer, to that film?: “How to exist? Love.”

It’s possible that I just find this message too on-the-nose. I was expecting, even desiring, to give the film a perfect score but it left me wanting by being merely excellent – 4 out of 5. Most of the film’s vacuum proselytizing is easily readable if an individual is thoughtful – realizing that every moment spent outside an invalid’s room is an agonizing moment where that invalid is reminded they are helplessly at your mercy – and for those who are less thoughtful, well, it’s not getting praise in Hollywood for nothing. I can only hope Haneke’s message is received and properly riles those at the bedsides of the bedridden enough to inspire change – if change is necessary. I haven’t been bedside anytime recently. Haneke would rouse Jean-Louis Trintignant, 82 years young, out of a probably ten year retirement (it is unclear) to play a role written for him alongside Emmanuelle Riva, 85 years even younger. He was famous for his roles in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman and Costa-Gavras’s kickass Z, and she for her rather seminal role as She in art-house classic Hiroshima Mon Amour – and both actors were pleasantly featured in Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. 2013 finds Riva Oscar-nominated for her bravery (that’s what they’d say) in playing Anne, but does she stand a chance against the assured Damehood of Jennifer Lawrence? No, she will lose to Lawrence. But she’s got my vote. It’s certainly not going to that six year old from the self-satisfied hippie film.

written by David Ashley

Postscript:
I penned this review before the noms were announced and am shocked – shocked! – that Lazhar is not on that list. Amour will still win, hands down.

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