Love and death are intertwined movingly in 'Amour'
Posted January 10, 2013
In Amour, a gravely ill woman, once an accomplished pianist, receives a surprise visit from a star pupil,
He's now a famous musician, and she revels in his success.
Afterward, he sends a card: "I spent a beautiful and sad moment with you."
As it unflinchingly faces mortality, Amour is full of incomparably beautiful and sad moments.
There's nothing reassuring in its dry-eyed examination of decrepitude. Director Michael Haneke doesn't sentimentalize serious illness. Taking place almost entirely inside an apartment, the march toward death grows increasingly oppressive. Yet this is a humanistic film, infused with subtle emotion and profound honesty.
The opening scene is jarring. Police burst into a well-appointed Parisian apartment. Then the film flashes back and the portrait of a long marriage emerges in all its complexity.
Veteran French actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give uncommonly lyrical performances as a couple married over 50 years in this deliberately paced film.
Some filmmakers assume every detail must be spelled out, to avoid the hazards of ambiguity. The best directors embrace ambiguity, inspiring the viewer to seek out meaning and ponder what is left unsaid. In Amour every frame conveys subtext.
Trintignant and Riva play Georges and Anne, retired musicians who move easily from discussion of a concert's finesse to blocked toilets, as couples do.
One night Georges wakes up to find Anne sitting up in bed and staring off. The next morning brings a similar episode, just after Anne had been casually cooking eggs. Suddenly she gazes through Georges with a distressingly sad stare. He tries lamely to help, holding a dampened washcloth to her face.
We are as mystified as Georges. Then suddenly Anne is back to normal, as if nothing happened, chiding George for leaving the water running.
Georges is increasingly worried, the lines on his face growing deeper. Their exact ages are never stipulated, but they are likely in their 80s. They have a middle-aged daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert).
Medical tests reveals Anne has an obstruction of the carotid artery. An operation fails.
When their daughter tries to intervene, Georges shoos her away.
"We'll manage all right," he tells Eva. "We've always coped, your mother and I."
But coping is a complicated process.
When Anne speaks, it's about her childhood and she calls for her mother. Georges strokes her hand and sings children's songs with her.
Amour has a universal quality. Everyone with aging or terminally ill loved ones will sense familiar moments. Anyone with a spouse will recognize the intimate insularity of married life. And yet, amid this broader perspective, Haneke tells a very singular story of one couple and their inter-reliance.
Both feel time running out.
"There are so many stories I never told you," Georges says. But he's no ministering angel. He loses his temper when she spits out a pill and reflexively slaps her, then is instantly apologetic. .
. More often than not, Anne and Georges are kind and courteous with one another. But nothing is exactly as it seems.
Mystery lurks amid the quotidian, demoralizing details. Doorbells go unanswered, there are hints of a robbery, bad dreams ruin a night's sleep.
But there are also lovely moments of peace. In facing death, Amour embraces life.
"It's beautiful, life," Anne muses as she turns the pages of a family photo album. "
Georges' final words to Anne are not of departure, nor even of love. But they are tenderly matter-of-fact: "It's a shame."
Amour is a contemplative, minimalist tale at once intricately constructed and emotionally haunting.
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