All of Michael Haneke’s films are disturbing, but his latest film AMOUR unsettles in a visceral way, enters the bloodstream and disrupts the very notion of mortality. I wouldn’t advise that younger audiences rush to see it; they would not have the patience for the subject matter or the pacing, but I highly recommend it if you have elderly parents or are getting old enough to wonder about the later stages of life. For this audience, Amour offers a remarkable and intense experience. It is highly realistic, gritty, moving and profound.
Emanuelle Riva and Jean Louis Trintingnant ~ the impact made by the beauty of these old faces. How rarely the contemporary camera dwells on them. The marvel of how they wrinkle so differently. The realization that the face becomes a map, reflecting a terrain built through years of living, through pain, through joy. The way an old face can light up and recapture youth.
Jean Louis Trintignant, at 80 something, still possesses that uniquely penetrating, inquisitive gaze that he turned on Brigitte Bardot 60 years ago, in Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman. As he looks at Riva, his valiant, struggling wife, you have the distinct sense that he’s truly deeply embracing her with his gaze. Probably you have read the synopsis elsewhere but here is the log line. The film opens on this distinguished aging couple attending a piano concert. Then the next morning, as they sit over breakfast, he suddenly sees her face go blank and he cannot rouse her. This is Riva's first stroke. There is a hospital visit never seen; the entire movie, after the concert scene, takes place in their large and beautiful, aging Parisian apartment. What follows is his grappling with her fervent wish to never be hospitalized again, and her descent into serious paralysis. Their daughter, a brusquely efficient Isabelle Huppert, makes the occasional visit but, from her father's perspective she becomes as an alien in their rarified world. Eventually he shuts her out.
We come to inhabit Tintingnant's skin as he endures the slow motion onslaught of a tragedy. And Riva... Riva seems to have transcended the role of actor and transformed herself, body and soul, into a woman whose flesh is rapidly becoming a prison, complete with all the inglorious distortions and ravages inflicted by a stroke.
Haneke deftly portrays the agony of life, how one minute life as we know it hums along and then, with a few eruptions in the brain, it suddenly screeches to a halt. The film moves often with excruciating slowness and, as the entire film is shot in this one apartment, this can seem at times intolerable. But this is the point. This is a real life and Haneke wants us to feel it, feel the pain of it. And Haneke does relieve the tension by cutting away to Trintingnant's reveries of earlier days, or allowing the camera to graze across their collection of paintings, mostly landscapes of some stature, as if to remark upon the enduring presence of art, the value of our attempts to capture the fleeting nature of beauty.
Yet within these tormented interior spaces, the outside world does intrude, and some of the events that transpire along the way are surprising, amusing, jarring. Ultimately, Trintingnant must confront his own desperation and finally emerges a hero, in a most unlikely way. This is the crux of the movie, and mind-blowing.
I wish I could describe the last scene - in fact I think it is one of the most succinct, poetic last scenes of all time. It perfectly summarizes the essence of the theme of Amour. I will give one cryptic clue... it is a visually striking tableau, and it bears poignant witness to the march of time, to what is gained and what is lost.