The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Heart-breaking and hugely powerful, Amour is a striking film about the value of love.
If beauty is truth, and truth beauty, Amour
may be the year's most honest and beautiful film. It's a profound picture, displaying the nature of love universally. Amour
will mean something different to everyone who sees it. It's the simple story of Georges and Anne and the trial of their lives as Anne suffers a stroke and Georges becomes her caretaker. However, the immense talent of everyone involved, from director Michael Haneke
to his two lead actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant
and Emmanuelle Riva
, makes Amour
less a film than an experience.
For Haneke, who wrote the script as well, Amour
is a perfect example of his steadfast loyalty to authenticity and resentment of sentimentality. It's also a testament to his incredible intelligence as an artist. He leaves it up to us to decide if his film is a dedication to love, or an indictment of it. Overwhelmingly, I feel it's both.
Georges (Trintignant) and Anne (Riva) are in their eighties, ex-music professors whose lives are changed drastically when Anne suffers a stroke at the breakfast table. She becomes catatonic, and Georges, unaware of what to do, thinks she's playing a trick on him. This incident is only the beginning. As Anne's condition worsens, she makes Georges promise to never take her to the hospital. He vows not to and becomes her caregiver and witness, as she slowly slips away.
Riva's performance is the heart of Amour
. She never wavers, giving Anne a subtle dignity that makes her condition all too real. It's telling that, during the breakfast table scene as the lights go out behind her eyes, she never resorts to over-acting. Instead, she plays it down, and, like Georges, the audience has no idea what's happening to her. It's a performance for the ages, a noble portrayal of a sick person without pity.
Trintignant takes his cues from Riva. His performance is largely reactive, but the veteran French actor handles scenes of happiness, disappointment, and frustration with poise. Like Riva, he lends Georges real dignity. In the face of losing his wife, he remains pragmatic, telling his daughter (Isabelle Huppert
) in one scene how things will go from bad to worse, and finally end one day. It's never hinted at, but Georges has the temperament of a soldier. He knows death is inevitable, and all he can do is live his life the best way he knows how.
It's telling Trintignant came out of semi-retirement to
work with Haneke. As decorated as he is, the Austrian filmmaker has never been better. His bravado lends itself perfectly to a film like this. Horrible or not, Haneke is dedicated to the truth of cinema. It's what makes Amour
a great film. Well, that, and Darius Khondji's professional cinematography and technique.
While death hovers over Amour
like a shadow, the film's interest in love is what gives it power. Georges and Anne have been together for decades and it's love that propels George to keep his promise to his wife and nurse her. It's love that allows him to see past what she's becoming and look at her the way he always has. When Georges helps Anne stand from her wheelchair, they embrace and shuffle over to a chair in a poignant dance that is as romantic as anything you'll ever see onscreen.
also explores the complex notion of the value of love at the end of life. Death is indifferent to human emotion and love is its greatest casualty. Are we better off without it in the end? Does it make death even more excruciating than it already is? Amour
doesn't pretend to have any answers, but it does seem to explain the essence of romance—a concept made exponentially greater by the threat of death.
Bravely simplistic and wonderfully sad, Amour
may seem like a drag, and it is on the surface. There's nothing fun about watching someone move towards the darkness. Amour
requires an inherent trust in the filmmaker and actors to deliver truth from within its dark subject matter. It's a film to be admired and learned from.