From the man who brought you a piano teacher with masochistic fetishes and a town full of troubled German children comes a movie about an elderly devoted married couple suffering through crippling disease and inevitable death in a Paris apartment. Sounds about right. Amour is about love. Not Hollywood-style love, the kind that comes equipped with a traditional happy ending. Michael Haneke doesn’t deal in such trifling matters. His films don’t wrap themselves up in neat little packages. He provokes audiences and asks probing questions. He offers up a film named “love” and drenches it in the slow stench of death. It’s what makes him so damn special.
Amour is a lengthy, sometimes painfully drawn-out, depiction of an old woman’s demise and the husband who watches it all from her bedside.
We see Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) wither away, a debilitating journey from initial diagnosis to a gibbering, zombified state. For either self-centered (he doesn’t know how to live without her) or sympathetic (he’s fulfilling her wishes to die at home) reasons, her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) devotes his life to her care and comfort.
Then, as it happens in most of Haneke’s films, a brief moment changes everything. But the same questions asked beforehand still apply: Was this all a labor of love? What is love? Can two dramatically different approaches, or even a hundred, be undertaken in the name of such a feeling?
Some of Haneke’s previous films – Cache and Funny Games in particular – are almost overwhelmingly detached. Funny Games asks us to look on as two men torture a family;Cache is all about being a voyeur, gaining a glimpse into someone’s private life.
Amour shares some of those themes: the disease that takes Anne’s life is torturous, and we’re privy to every slip in her condition. And the view we receive of Anne’s death is about as private as it gets.
But it’s not a film about detachment. We’re not meant to become unfeeling and sterile as Anne slips away. On the contrary; we begin to forget what Anne was like before death overtook her, when she was a smiling, seemingly happy woman. We’re immersed in the crawl towards nothingness. And much like Georges, we wonder what is best for this shell that used to hold a human being, one he cared for deeply.
Eventually, Georges makes a decision. And while it may be shocking, it doesn’t feel constructed, or set up to send us a message. It’s presented starkly, but with much room for interpretation. We’re allowed surface-level access to these two characters, and then given a chance to dissect what lies beneath.
Amour feels different than Haneke’s previous work. Maybe he’s softening with old age. Or maybe he’s chosen a less blunt method to portray a theme that cannot be pinned down in any objective way. Love is love. You know it when you feel it, and you express it in whatever way suits you best.