This film deals with the stuff of life with so much grace and power that it resonates in the mind forever
Last year in June I reviewed The White Ribbon, a film by the Austrian director Michael Haneke that won the Palme D’or at Cannes in 2009. I chose to write about that film then in order to celebrate his winning of the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival again, in 2012, for Amour, a film that has become available to us just now.
Amour is every bit the minimalist masterpiece that I had anticipated over the last few months of waiting. Made for an astonishingly low sum of 7.3 million euros, the film traces the final months of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly couple living in an old but spacious and elegant apartment in Paris filled with oil paintings and a well used, perfectly tuned piano, depicting a lifetime’s worth of the appreciation of beauty.
The film starts explosively but mellows into scenes portraying the simple harmony between the couple, the affection they feel for each other, their ease in each other’s company, and the comfort with which they live during their gently waning years. Then one morning at breakfast, Anne suffers from a stroke, and their lives change irrevocably.
As George cares for Anne over the course of her illness she inevitably deteriorates; it is then that we see why the film is titled Amour (which is the French word for love).
Even while Georges is forced to hire nurses to care for Anne, he continues to treat her with a tenderness that comes from long years of companionship. When she won’t drink water at some point, spitting it out at him because she has lost the will to live, Georges smacks her, not out of irritation but from fear, desperation, and exhaustion.
It is little scenes like these, slowly built up with the precise and unerring eye of the director, with the help of his cinematographer, the great Darius Khondji, that binds the film together creating an effect which is so subtle yet so realistic that the audience feels we are indeed witnessing this couple’s lives unfolding right before our eyes.
Haneke’s style has always been slow, watchful, patient, and non-judgmental. While contemplating this beautiful yet painful film I was reminded strongly of another domestic drama, the film A Separation (2011) by the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (also reviewed in the Nepali Times).
Both films deal with families disintegrating, a subject that can easily descend into melodrama and messiness. Yet both of these directors are skilled and restrained enough to allow the actors to work on behalf of their excellent scripts, trusting in their skills, and in the mysteries of the human condition, that when treated with the sleight of hand of a wise director can be so much more compelling than any thriller.
Amour has been nominated both in the Best Foreign Language as well as Best Picture categories this year. The Academy will probably pick Lincoln over Amour, and while both are great films, Amour deals with the stuff of life with so much grace and power that it resonates in the mind forever.
Winning in the Best Picture category is an honour, but not necessarily the best judge of the greatest film. Come Oscar night (well, early morning for us on the 25 February), I will be holding my breath.
Amour, a film by Austrian director Michael Haneke