BY CLAIRE WARD-BEVERIDGE
Michael Haneke’s eleventh feature film, Amour, opens with a start: a fire brigade smashing open the front door to an apartment with a battering ram. Once inside, we move through the apartment with the authorities that have arrived and as the scene finishes, we realize that we have seen how the story ends, how all of our stories will end. Then we jump back in time and follow the lives of an elderly couple (Anne played by Emmanuelle Rivard and Georges played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) who live and do everything together, as one would hope elderly married couples do. They are retired music teachers and seem to live more or less independently.
One morning as Anne and Georges chat over breakfast in the kitchen, Anne suddenly goes completely silent and still, as if frozen, before awakening just as quickly, much to Georges’ bewilderment. We soon learn that she has suffered a stroke and the surgery she has to repair things goes wrong. Then things begin to look more and more grim, as Haneke’s films are wont to do.
I couldn’t help but feel a panic rising inside of me as I saw the lives of the main characters grow more and more anguished. Was it because they were just old and alone? Or because they were also the parents of an adult child (Isabelle Huppert), who was left to watch from the sidelines, helplessly wringing her hands? Did I feel a pang of recognition, being an adult with parents (not elderly, but still) that I can’t help but worry about on a regular basis? Or was I so moved because they were just human beings facing death; facing her death, but also his death through hers? All or most who watch this film will be faced with similar questions of mortality along with morality. When you are taking care of someone who is dying, someone who you are bound to through love and marriage, how do you balance their wants and needs with your own?
I suppose we must look to the title of the film for the answers. But whether such large, looming questions surrounding life or death are raised or not, it is important to make mention of the way in which these questions are handled from a film perspective. Aesthetically, this is a film deeply rooted in Haneke’s tradition of handling dramatic scenes with very long takes. Long to the point of moving past impatience into suspense and then often into searching for meaning in things that would normally not arouse such feelings (see: Georges shooing a pigeon out of the apartment, concert attendees settling into their seats). There are no handheld, gritty close-ups or brisk montages of artful images. Everything is wide and vast and still, a steadfast structure within which we see two delicate lives fall apart.
Haneke’s films tend to inhabit and project a realness that is so jarring, intense and beautiful and this film is no exception. It may be his most truthful and, in a sense, his most frightening. In French.
Claire Ward-Beveridge is a freelance writer & photographer who lives in North Parkdale, Toronto and her rattled brain. She loves Werner Herzog and depressing English dramas. Follow her @clairewarb.