Amour (Love)

Directed By: Michael Haneke

Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, and Isabelle Huppert

Getting old sucks, or so I've heard.  If we live long enough, it's a journey we all must take.  It's a subject that's often glossed over at the movies, but the floodgates have opened as of late on this topic.  While we've had lighter fare like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in recent months, director Michael Haneke, a septuagenarian himself, has decided to tackle the darker side of getting old and making a movie about one's twilight hours.  His film Amour takes a look at an old French couple and the tragic beauty of their long life together.

We begin Amour with the fire department entering an old couple's apartment in Paris.  In the flat, they find the door to the main bedroom is taped shut.   When they finally get it open, they find the body of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), one of the owners, in bed.  Dead for days, her rotting corpse is decorated with snipped flowers.  With Haneke now taking us back in time, we see Anne when she is still among the living and enjoying life with her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).  Former music teachers, these octogenarians are enjoying their golden years.

One morning, the couple is eating breakfast and Anne goes silent.  She doesn't respond to anything Georges does or says.  She's catatonic.  Eventually, she begins to respond again, and Georges convinces her to go see Dr. Bertier at the hospital.  There, they learn that Anne suffered a stroke due to a blocked carotid artery.  There's a surgical procedure that can help Anne, but it has a five percent failure rate.  As fate would have it, the treatment fails.  Anne is left paralyzed on her right side and completely dependent on a caring and loving Georges.  The painstaking final chapter of their marriage begins as Anne's health continues a downward spiral.

While I'm certain that this film is not everyone's cup of tea (especially if you’re averse to cruelty against pigeons), Amour is nothing short of mesmerizing.  Michael Haneke takes his camera and looks death right in the eye.  He thoroughly explores the emotional anxieties of embracing (or not) the reality of death in old age.  In delving into the ghastly underpinnings of the road to the grave, what doesn't happen is often more important than what does for Haneke.  It's what's not seen.  It's what's not heard.  It's what's not said.  Haneke's expertly crafted film is a masterful exercise in subtlety. 

As the sickly Anne, Emmanuelle Riva gives an incredibly emotive performance.  She deftly showcases the tragic side of old age — the loss of motor control, the loss of one's mental faculties, and even one's inability to speak.  In depicting old age, she's really showing this dying elderly woman as a defenseless child.  Giving a genuine portrayal of this tragic state alone is gripping enough.  On top of this, Riva powerfully emotes the shame and embarrassment of it all.  It's clear as day when we hear her crying out in pain for help or when we see her distorted face as she gives a sad, listless gaze.  Watching Riva at her finest on screen is heart-wrenching.

Jean-Louis Trintignant is equally impressive as Riva's on-screen husband Georges.  His character has a different emotional burden.  He's enduring the struggle of watching his wife go downhill.  It's fair to say that watching the one you love go through so much pain is emotionally burdensome at the least.  Trintignant illustrates this most in his character's quiet moments. The burden of it all is never more apparent than when Trintignant gives these pensive, wistful gazes into nothingness.  His gazes are worth a thousand words.  Beyond the more emotional side of his performance, Trintignant delivers a grumpy old man who offers quite a bit of humor. He peppers the film with plenty of caustic remarks that keep us laughing.

Watching Amour is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  Watching an elderly woman gradually fall to pieces isn't something anyone enjoys doing, but Michael Haneke crafts the film in such a way that you just can't turn away.  Haneke's masterpiece Amour gets a sober rating.  This film isn't for everybody.  It's depressing.  It's painful.  It's love.