Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)


Jun-Dai and Lucía at home on 28 December 2013

Amour is a film I’m not likely to forget anytime soon. It is the most devastating film I can recall watching. Emotionally, it is a bit like the first 10 minutes of Up (which I consider Pixar’s finest work), but without the relief of the subsequent 80-minute adventure film (which I consider one of Pixar’s most disappointing works). And Amour is much more human, because it lacks the sweetness of the perfect devotion that Carl and Ellie have for one another, and because it lacks the unifying theme around which the story of their marriage is told.

Instead, in Amour we see the end of a marriage where the husband tries his best to keep his wife’s dignity intact as three blows of fate—a silent stroke, an unsuccessful operation, and another stroke—render her basically immobile and largely unable to communicate.

That the characters are pianists is not particularly relevant to the story—it provides some context and gives the characters enough depth that they can seem real, and it provides some continuity to the story. What is more interesting, however, is what is left out of the film. We have no sense of what the couple would have been like 20 years earlier. Were they always this close? Did they separate, or have affairs, or get into vicious fights? All we know is where their marriage has settled late in life and after their careers have come to a close, and even this is just something we glimpse in how they behave towards one another after a concert and over breakfast.

What is important about these characters? I think it is important that they are, in their old age, fairly co-dependent, and that they are closer to each other than they are to their daughter. It is also relevant that they are wealthy enough to have options—the characters are perhaps much like the sort of people that might see the film. It is not a film about the tragedy of old age in poverty; it is a film about the tragedy of old age.

Haneke makes some very deliberate choices that give the film much of its power. We do not see Anne in the hospital. Her reaction to the diagnosis of her stroke, the decision to undergo an operation, and the realisation that the operation was unsuccessful are never shown to us, and we can only infer them from our own experiences and from her demand to Georges that he promise never to put her in the hospital again. We never see Anne being abused by her nurse, all we see are two moments in her tending to Anne where we can see that she is doing her job effectively but in a way that is detached and somewhat lacking in compassion. We can understand why Georges fires her, but we can also understand why she is so outraged.

Similarly, much of the dialogue feels familiar in the way that none of the characters say things quite the way they want to say them.

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