Sunday morning, May 20, 2012, at 8:30 AM CET, I sat down and watched a woman die over the course of two hours. It wasn’t pleasant.
Elegantly told with the utmost respect for its characters, Michael Haneke’s Amour (Love) is as well-crafted as they come, but the unbearable nature of watching it is overwhelming. The horrors of old age are fully realized as are the resulting effects not only on the person suffering the agony of withering away, but those that have to watch them do it.
Anne and Georges Laurent (Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant) are a couple of 80-something, retired music teachers. Their love for the arts remains as they sit down to take in a concert from one of Anne’s students. They return home and to look around their Parisian apartment you find the evidence of a pair of lives well-lived. Their love runs deep and it’s about to be put to the test.
Anne suffers an attack and a subsequent surgery is unsuccessful leaving the right side of her body paralyzed. At first she’s confined to a wheelchair, still able to talk, but unable to get around like she used to. Georges must help her in the bathroom, into bed and must cut her meat before dinner. This is only the beginning.
Over the course of the film’s two hour running time Haneke presents an unflinching picture of death. For the most part it’s a torturous journey as a man must watch the woman he loves shrink before his eyes and she is powerless to stop it, wishing her life could just end and unburden the man that has been so kind to her for all these years.
Have you contemplated your death? How you’d like to go out? Have you considered the possibility you will be left bedridden, relying on someone to feed you, change your diaper and clean you. Have you imagined those close to you suffering such ailments. You will.
As someone yet to endure such trials I can only look on with confusion, knowing one day it could be my parents in such a situation, a possibility that is also addressed here.
Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is Anne and Georges’ daughter. Living out of town she is unable to visit on a consistent basis, but when she does another layer to the plot is peeled away. Georges feels forced to defend the decisions he’s made based on doctor recommendations and Anne’s wishes. Dealing with the vision of her mother in such a state, unable to speak in full sentences or even make sense when she does, causes Eva to wonder what more can be done.
Already at wits end with the situation Georges feels attacked, as if his love for his deteriorating wife is being questioned. Emotions run high and the unrelenting pain of the situation surges on and in typical Haneke fashion he doesn’t provide a musical score to ease the audience or manipulate the emotional tenor of the piece. All you’re left with are your thoughts, uncomfortable silences or the agony of having to listen to Anne repeatedly yell out, “Hurts!” from her bed.
Riva and Trintignant are ever convincing in their performances. Heart-breakingly so. From Trintignant’s concerned waddle to his wife’s bedside to Riva’s physical transformation and dedication to her character’s suffering. What is most shocking, perhaps, is the lack of tears from the film’s two leads and I can’t help but wonder if this was Haneke’s explicit design, not wanting to give the audience any sense of release or reprieve. At one point Georges says, “Some things should not be seen,” and yet Haneke is sure to show us everything, resulting in the film’s crushing dramatic effect.
How am I to react to such a film? A film so affecting while at the same time so difficult to watch all I could hope for was that it would end. To that point, there is no argument as to whether it’s too long. Haneke is not a filmmaker to make a film like this too long or too short. If the pain of watching it reaches a point you can hardly bear to endure another second then he has succeeded. As for whether he has succeeded in delivering a film you want to watch that’s another issue entirely as I know for a fact I won’t ever be watching Amour again.
So what do you want? A grade? How do you grade a film this honest, this gut-wrenching and this well made? Is the judgment of film based solely on entertainment value or the accomplished nature of what’s on screen regardless? I’ll say this… Amour is not entertaining, but to dismiss it for that reason seems wrong.
That said, you can look at the following grade and make your own opinion, but if there was ever a film that proved grading movies was the wrong way to make a decision as to whether or not it’s a film you should watch, this is the one.