In film, violence has become an accepted drug of choice. Horror films crowd around us, fanged and gruesome. Yet, there is an important place for pain. Pain is integral to life’s ebb and flow, a darkness that lends sweetness to luck and joy and laughter. Amour offers an acceptance of pain, a cathartic versus violent place. Here lie sweetness and pain, loss and acceptance. This film is a meditative, complex journey into shadow-lands, and one worth taking. Love, the 2012 French-language drama film written and directed by the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, stars Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert.
Select Awards: Palme d'Or, Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, European Film Award for Best Actor, BFCA Critics' Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film, BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film, European Film Award for Best Film, 5 Oscar nominations including best foreign film and – unexpectedly – best picture.
Running time: 127 minutes
Grey, the grey of parchment skin. Grey of sameness, the sheer roll of days. Grey that is left when color slides away, the grey that sneaks onto the body slowly, into eyebrows, into arm hairs, leg and finger and beard hair. And eyes. Grey dawning upon the surface, a gradual ice age. While below the grey routs itself into every passage, every path, brain, vein, nerve. Grey brittling and freezing.
Color submerges, becomes hidden. Color is painted over. But color resists attack and endures. Every heart beat pumps gorgeous living color so that a person continues to live another day, to love, to read books, to hear symphonies, to laugh.
Our fragile human bodies. But love, amour, is the strongest substance we can know.
I’ve heard many points of view about this film. Some elders in my life tell me that to them the story is nothing special; they know all about it. My husband found the intimate view into aging difficult. Myself, I was taken, enthralled.
The conflict between fragile and resilient anchors the story of Georges and Anne, a married couple in their eighties who live a well-trodden, steadfast middle class existence in Paris. Now retired, they once enjoyed long careers as musicians and music teachers. Within the confines of their apartment we watch Anne’s decline due to a stroke. Their family consists of one grown daughter and her family, whom we barely see. We follow Georges, resolute and constant until the inevitable end.
The depiction of aging, decline, and illness is difficult on several levels. It’s ugly, painful, scary, embarrassing, and very private. Hidden. Locked behind closed doors. Georges tries that with his daughter, barring her from his mother’s room. But he fails. The film is too bent on revelation.
Revelation lifted up. Revelation at its basest.
When I was in film school I was preoccupied with the bittersweet, the quiet. I needed to explore how love and pain mix. Some of my favorite films were: The Conformist, Tokyo Story, Wings of Desire, Hiroshima Mon Amour.
If you’ve seen Amour and done your homework into the background of the cast, you know where I’m going with this. As I viewed Amour, the age of the actors and my horrible memory of names obscured the facts from me. Only afterward did I discover to my delight that the two elderly actors were once among my favorite. Perhaps more importantly, they were also favored in the storied halls of French and European Cinema. Jean-Louis Trintignant helmed several great, acclaimed films including The Conformist (La Conformista [Italian]) and Emmanuelle Riva graced dozens of French films including the New Wave, extraordinary Hiroshima, Mon Amour.
Each actor was once touted and feted for their panache, their beauty, their flair. And here they are in their twilight, obscured by the webbing on their skin and the bending of their bodies. Yet, despite all of this, this pair remains beautiful, skilled—perhaps more now than ever.
Once long-limbed and solid, Emmanuelle Riva embodies a shrunken marked Anne. Yet time-tempered pride of a master musician and teacher stiffens, lifts her spine. Her sharp cheekbones jut tantalizing. One wonders how they sat in a younger face.
Beneath overgrown brows a spark of debonair, flashing eyes remains in Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Georges. A tender gaze hints at a once passionate and loving man.
Among the handful of critically acclaimed films Michael Haneke has made, I’ve only seen Cache, which I loved, and I saw the connection between the two films immediately. Each is notable for their intensive view into bourgeois French family life. Yet while Cache was clinical and chilling, Amour bestows a gentler tone. Color and connection. A quiet well of emotion flowing, accessible, beneath the surface of polite French living.
Breakfast in the unfussy kitchen at an old wooden table. An empty hallway and an open window. High doorways into warm pocket rooms. Leg exercises. An old sink. Books read in bed. The water delivery. Crammed book shelves. Learning how to steer a wheelchair. Lips and hand curling into themselves. Gibberish. And then the word “pain” yelled, moaned, cried, “Mal!” Whispered: Pain.
If this film were a song it would bequeath quiet sustained notes that pulse into passionate peaks, then down low again lingering and extended. Repetitive. But calm and rhythmic. Constant.
Watching Amour, we see love as the title Amour suggests. We wonder at the ways of love. Haneke stretches ways of loving to the borders. With this love of Anne and Georges he colors love grey as well as red, pale as well as robust.
In many ways Amour is a documentary. The study of what happens to a family in a set of rooms could be set anywhere and—done right—it would be riveting. Luckily, a single culture—in this case French—in all of its interaction and nuance is portrayed with stunning depth in this film. A million tiny details are conveyed. We are offered thousands of particulars and minutiae inside the couple’s apartment walls.
We also are invited to peer into comings and goings from the outside: Who helps, who is absent; who calls and what they say; who visits and who is absent. We see what people send and bring and who works doing what: The young nurses, the unsettled student, the invisible grandchildren. These pieces form a complex and thorough microcosm of modern French society.
This is a most cushioned, a most comfortable haven, as solid and settled as a life could be. Every floor board, cushioned chair, paneled doorway, breakfast repast, and landscape painting is lovingly painted into the two hours. Stroke upon stroke piles onto the canvas of this long married life.
In film, violence has become an accepted drug of choice. Horror films crowd around us, fanged and gruesome. Yet, there is an important place for pain. Pain is integral to life’s ebb and flow, a darkness that lends sweetness to luck and joy and laughter. Amour offers an acceptance of pain, a cathartic versus violent place. Here lie sweetness and pain, loss and acceptance. This film is a meditative, complex journey into shadow-lands, and one worth taking.