The first thing that might occur to you after two hours of Amour is the looming silence, a truly hulking volume of both sound and space. You spend almost every minute of the film trapped in the same small apartment that the main characters occupy and as the ending credits appear it feels as though you’ll be staying there, at least for awhile. Michael Haneke, as he is known to do, has directed a film with a stationary camera that positions you in front of a subject for your frank and often unpleasant observation. The film received five surprise Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director and went on to win for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.
Two legendary French performers, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, a pair of happily married and now retired music teachers. Minutes into the film, Anne has an episode where she loses consciousness for a moment while the two are sharing breakfast, prompting a trip to the doctor. The couple returns with troubling news and spend the rest of the film locked in conflict over what to do next. This is the definition of a performance-driven movie. Riva does a remarkable job of relating deep wells of pain with every wince and gaze. A sense of what Georges is enduring constantly weighs on your shoulders as well as his. We witness a rare thing in film: the withering end of a good life and the limits of love rendered and repeated in prolonged, naturalistic tones.
A pair of scenes featuring a pigeon break-in are obtuse meditations on Georges’ evolving love for his wife and his battle against losing her. When the bird flits in through an open window the first time early in the film, Georges quickly and skillfully tricks it back out. The scene is over in an instant. Near the end of the film, Georges enters the same room to find that a bird has once again found its way into his home. This time however, armed with a blanket, he makes half a dozen clumsy attempts to drop his makeshift net over the bird. Capturing it, you’re not quite sure what the man plans to do next. Soon though he is sitting in a chair, bird wrapped in blanket, cradling the animal gently in his arms. Georges has reached the final reevaluation of how life filters through his affection for the bird and the audience gets another sorrowful landmark in their journey through the film. Georges’ differing reactions are hard, unsentimental but poetic moments that are perfect illustrations of what Haneke does best. Incredibly spare in their direction, scenes like this allow so much latitude for the audience to sort things out for themselves.
Another scene opens with Anne sitting behind a piano. We hear music and at first it seems like she might be playing but then the camera moves to Georges sitting at the other end of the room where he is sitting in front of a record player. He flips a switch and the music stops abruptly. There’s a brief pause to allow the deafening silence to fill the room and the audience is left with a bitter moment remembering what Anne remembers. She used to play the piano and she used to share her love of music with students and she used to have a foundation on which to build a life with her husband—now all that is over.
Opening an old photo album, Anne looks back with the audience through various happy times. We are given further proof of a life well lived. Georges is initially hesitant to bring it to her when she asks for it, and for good reason. His wife’s spirit is deteriorating faster than her body, and, when after turning a couple of pages she dryly announces that life is beautiful, the listless tone in her voice anchors those words deep inside you.
Georges has a conversation with his daughter that seems to epitomize the film’s simple approach. When his daughter shrilly demands what her father’s plan will be he responds flatly, “Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.” There is textural horror and ultimately catharsis in this film’s flat-footed gaze into the abyss but it’s worth it. It is the result of simple direction, poignant writing and tactile performances. It is a peace shepherded by Georges and Anne. Really fine characters keep your mind so fully occupied that you feel like you’ve been ripped out of your life and dropped into another. I felt such gratitude after it was all over—the narrative is stark acknowledgement of something most people force out of their minds until they can’t any longer, but the shared experience of Amour brings and unexpected tranquility.
David Lundin was born in Illinois, went to high school in Wisconsin and received his BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minnesota. When not watching movies, he writes and draws and bikes and lives! David is currently a writer and illustrator living in Minneapolis and will one day, God willing, move to a land without snow.
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Text copyright ©2012 David Lundin. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.