Honesty is the best policy, right? I’d always thought being brutally honest was better than prettying up the truth with bells and whistles, but after watching Michael Haneke’s latest film, Amour, I’m not so sure anymore. There’s one thing I am sure of, however: the German auteur doesn’t let his audience off easy in this Oscar-winning flick.
The crux of the film can be summated very simply: Amour tells the story of an elderly French couple in their dying months. Retired classical music teacher, Anne (Emanuelle Riva) suffers a series of strokes that render her almost completely physically immobile, leaving her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to look after her, which he does so willingly and without complaint, catering to her every need, whim and footstep. They deign to shut the world and even their daughter, Eva, out of their small Parisian apartment, in an attempt to cope with what is happening. This simple premise is explored deeply, showcasing the couple’s love and devotion to one another.
Anne’s death is foreshadowed in the film’s opening moments, an end we almost sadistically come to hope for throughout the movie’s duration. This hope stems from Haneke’s affronting, and sometimes even disturbing, portrayal of the couple’s pain and suffering. Nothing about the movie feels contrived — the performance by the two leads is flawless and the way Haneke hastens to spoon-feed the audience is liberating. The film’s style is starkly European in that sense; it allows us to make up our own minds about what is being played out before us, rather than dictating it all to us. The film has no score and instead it relies on the raw emotion of each scene to carry us through, which is a brave move and one that worked very well. Through a multitude of lengthy mid shots, we observe how these people deal with the situation forced upon them. We experience what it is like to slowly lose your grip on life and simultaneously lose your grip on someone you love — both delivered with almost brutal honesty. Not a hint of sugar coating in this film.
The beauty and simplicity of such an honest portrayal of life’s struggle towards death does have a flipside, though. To completely engage in a story as sad as this one, there need to be glimmers of light, which I was left searching for. The only warmth here stemmed from Georges unwavering devotion to his wife and tiny moments in between, where flecks of happiness could be seen. Beyond that, the film seemed to drag from one scene of suffering to the next, plodding slowly from struggle to struggle. The mid shots became distant at times and it seemed as though I was detached from the characters completely. Perhaps this is what stops Amour from being as moving as Haneke might have hoped it to be.
Haneke’s minimalistic and unsentimental approach to dealing with the subject of love is admirable, but a balance between light and dark could have made it riveting. Amour simply begs the question: is there such thing in filmmaking as being too honest?
– Movie Review by Steph