amour-2012-haneke-review

AMOUR

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by Michael Haneke

grade: 9

In Michael Haneke’s Amour (Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2012, as well as Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013), there is no place for deep reflections on what human beings have become today. There is no place for the inner torments of talented pianists, adrift families or white-gloved young delinquents breaking into rich homes. Now is the time to focus on one of the most complex feelings, in its purest form.

Forever

What forms can true love take? And, above all, where can it lead? Michael Haneke, probably the most famous Austrian auteur outside Austria, tried to answer this complex question with Amour, which was presented in competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2012 (where it won the prestigious Palme d’Or), as well as winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013, the second for Austria after The Counterfeiters, directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky in 2007.

This co-production between Austria, France and Germany featured an international cast made up of true legends of the seventh art, including, above all, the great Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, not forgetting the excellent Isabelle Huppert, who had already worked with Haneke in The Piano Teacher (2001).

A love story, this one, staged in its purest form, namely in a marriage relationship that goes on for decades and which, unfortunately, cannot be immune to the passing of time, to illness and, above all, to ageing, but which, at the same time, seems, despite everything, stronger than ever. This, then, is the story of Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva), two retired music teachers whose lives change forever when Anne suffers a stroke, as a result of which she becomes paralysed on the right side of her body and her illness progressively worsens.

This is one of the most intimate topics ever dealt with by Haneke, who, during his long and prolific career, has distinguished himself – in addition to precise directorial choices that have become his trademark – also for a sort of (not too) latent cynicism, in a great fresco of today’s society that leaves little hope for a better future. And yet, in Amour, things change. And they change a lot.

There’s no place here for long reflections on what human beings have become today. There is no place for the inner torments of talented pianists, for families in crisis or for young white-gloved delinquents breaking into elegant homes. Now it is time to focus on one of the most complex feelings, in its purest form. The story of Georges and Anne, therefore, is staged at one of its most delicate moments, when it seems to be sadly coming to an end. Or maybe not?

A further protagonist of Amour, in this regard, is the house in which the couple has shared more than fifty years together. A house as silent witness to so many secrets, as well as helpless and respectful spectator of what goes on in it. There is almost no space in Amour for additional locations, except, of course, for brief outdoor scenes and an initial scene in the theatre. Everything takes place within the apartment of the two protagonists. And so, when the camera – rigorously static – doesn’t focus on their close-ups or their gestures, it silently shows us the rooms – now occupied, now empty – of the two protagonists’ flat. It often happens, therefore, that, from behind closed doors, we hear their dialogue. And here, too, Haneke plays with his much-loved off-screen, allowing us only to hint at what is happening out of sight. And this is made, in this case, with such a sense of respect as has rarely happened in the Austrian director’s other works. A respect that goes hand in hand with a strong need for privacy. Just as Georges’ expressed wish to his daughter to be left in peace with his wife suggests, as if he wanted to jealously preserve what remained of their precious life together.

Haneke, for his part, never stops unsettling us and causing us strong emotional shocks. And, on this occasion, he has set the climax of the film just before the end. A climax that arrives almost unexpectedly (although preceded by a long monologue that already presages imminent twists), cruel, painful, but also incredibly full of love. A climax that shocks and annihilates, that devastates and moves. Everything is staged to show a love that does not need useless artifice or excessive directorial virtuosity to tell us how powerful it is. And, in this case too, the skilful approach with which Haneke has played turns out to be the winning solution.

What remains, then, at the end of Amour? What remains is a deep sense of emptiness and sadness that is soon overcome by the certainty that true love, in fact, never dies. Even when what remains is a big, completely empty house.

Original title: Amour
Directed by: Michael Haneke
Country/year: Austria, France, Germany / 2012
Running time: 127’
Genre: drama, romance
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell, Ramon Agirre, Rita Blanco, Suzanne Schmidt
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Produced by: Les Films du Losange, X-Filme Creative Pool, Wega Film, France 3 Cinéma, ARD Degeto Film, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Westdeutscher Rundfunk

Info: the page of Amour on iMDb; Amour on Facebook