Review: Amour (Hanake, 2012)

November 30, 2012 5:11 pm

Speechless. Michael Haneke’s newPalme d’Or winning Amour is meticulously crafted to leave its audiences speechless.

Haneke’s films have always been alienating, challenging and revolutionary in terms of cinema. The characters of Funny Games (1997) broke the fourth wall to teach its audience a brutal lesson about voyeurism and on-screen violence. In Hidden (2005), Haneke returned the favour by breaking though the fourth wall himself, to toy with his puppets of French bourgeoisie repression. His cinema has always been one of taking risks and to this day, all of the risks taken, have been worth it.

Amour is in this sense, is no exception. Introducing its audiences to its focal elderly couple, George and Anne (played brilliantly by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Rive, respectively) we quickly understand the depth of the love between the pair. As a couple, with years and a daughter (Isabelle Huppert) under their collective belt, they enjoy themselves at the theatre, spend hours regaling stories for one another and above all live a life of quiet simplicity, in the warm comfort of each other’s company.

The genesis of the film’s drama occurs when Anne suffers a stroke, causing her health to deteriorate rapidly; its immediate effect being that the right-hand side of her body is completely paralysed. George, having promised not to take her back to the hospital, becomes Anne’s full-time care-giver, something which he sees as his duty and carries out to his best possible ability. It is, perhaps, difficult at first to dismiss the idea that Haneke isn’t testing or challenging his characters in the same way that, as his filmography suggests, he relishes. Amour, like the title suggests, foregrounds it’s love as real and true to life; love, in all of its forms.

Despite George and Anne’s heartache, there is a beauty in their commitment to one another. A particular scene in which George assits Anne from her wheelchair up onto her feet, only to suddenly engage in something approaching a two-step dance, epitomises the film’s sheer perfection in imbuing the tragic with an element of compassion and beauty and, moreover, will surely be a treasured talking point of the film for years to come. It’s a film which draws its power (and suprising touches of comedy) from such moments, which are not simply throw-away digressions, but in actual fact, constitute some of its most memorable imagery.

Of course, Haneke is not interested in any romanticising any part of his narrative or characters beyond the point of honesty or believability. Its opening sequence sets out exactly how the film will end, we simply don’t know exactly how we will reach its conclusion. Despite George’s devotion to his wife, all things come to pass and Haneke’s interest is in confronting this inevitability. Utilising his trademark, sparse cinematography and patient editing rhythm, we encounter each moment of triumph or heartbreak with an unstinting honesty which will continue to haunt the memory of everyone who experiences it. This is, perhaps, the best way to describe what Amour ultimately amounts to; an experience.

Whilst the experience on offer, like the majority of Haneke’s work, is daunting and unapologetic; in this reviewer’s honest opinion, it is a film which should be seen by as many people as possible. Its tragedy and its beauty are both sourced from the drama of everyday life and nothing more and this is its greatest strength. George and Anne love each other until the very end, and whilst it is perhaps difficult to say the same of Amour itself (in the same way it is difficult to proclaim a ‘love’ for the majority its director’s work; rather ‘we are greatly affected’), it is, perhaps, one of the most important films to be released this year, cementing Michael Haneke as the contemporary master of cinematic experience. A cinematic experience like no other.

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