PLOT: Georges (Jean-Louis Tritignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) seem to be weathering the transition to old age better than most. Two former piano teachers, they spend their days going to concerts, listening to music, and gently teasing each other about their age. Most importantly, they’re still devoted to each other. One morning, Anne has a stroke, and a subsequent operation leaves her partially paralyzed. From there- her health gets worse and worse, and George steadfastly refuses to commit her to an old age home, making her care his personal mission in life. But is his love a match for the ravages of time?
REVIEW: Michael Haneke’s AMOUR makes the similarly themed AWAY FROM HER look like AIRPLANE by comparison. That’s not a dig at Sarah Polley’s film, which is great in its own right, but Haneke’s AMOUR is an absolute ordeal. Remember that lyric from The Who’s ‘My Generation’- “I hope I die before I get old”? Well, after watching AMOUR I can’t help but think they were on to something.
Then again, as my Grandmother always tells me, “getting old isn’t for wimps”- and George and Anne’s steadfast determination to stay independent is in its own way inspiring- despite its inevitable end. AMOUR starts with the police bursting in to George and Anne’s apartment – finding Anna lying dead in bed, her head surrounded by flower petals. What happened? From there- Haneke shows us, in a 130 minute ordeal that left me drained emotionally- no doubt Haneke’s intention. I can certainly see why it won the "palme d'or" at Cannes.
The acting is superb. Essentially it’s a two hander, being confined (mostly) to Georges and Anne’s apartment. Both aged actors are former French New Wave stars. Riva starred in Alain Resnais’ HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, while Tritignant is a French icon, having starred in movies like THE CONFORMIST. The day before watching AMOUR, I happened to see his spaghetti western, THE GREAT SILENCE at the revival house in my neighborhood, and comparing the lean, Eastwood-style hero from that film to his octogenarian figure in AMOUR is striking. Yet in his own way, George- in his very human struggle is just as heroic as Silence. Make no mistake; Haneke is not making THE NOTEBOOK. When Anne’s decline starts to get really bad, his frustration is fully explored- but I’d wager that throughout he acts better than 99.9% of us would do in his placem although there’s nothing artificial about it. Tritignant is incredible, and sorely deserving of an Oscar nomination.
As for Riva- she’s just as brilliant, in an incredibly physically demanding role on an eighty-something actress. Riva has to affect a woman partially paralyzed, and then one who can barely speak, and finally one that’s deep into dementia. She’s heart-breaking, but through it all- the inner beauty of her character shines thorough. Like Tritignant, she certainly deserves an Oscar nomination.
Of course, AMOUR is a very difficult film at times, and among the grimmest movies I’ve seen in a while. Haneke’s not exactly known for his light touch, but even something like THE WHITE RIBBON seems almost lighthearted in comparison to this. Once things start getting bad, there’s no relief. As Georges predicts in the film, “things will get steadily worse until it comes to its inevitable end.” Certainly the same is true of AMOUR. But- while I can’t say it’s a film I “enjoyed”, it’s one I’m happy I saw, and certainly something that needs to be seen.