Viewed at the London Film Festival on 13/10/2012
Never has an audience left the theatres so quietly. Michael Haneke’s latest film _Amour _(Love) is a torturous exercise in absolute cinematic precision. Tracking the ruinous demise into dementia and decrepitude of an aging piano teacher; Anne, played with remarkable bravery by Emmanuelle Riva, and her relationship with partner-turned-carer, Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, whose performance if not as demanding, is equally remarkable; director Michael Haneke shows the experience of death in the worst possible way in this sombre, taxing film. As would be expected from a filmmaker who has never been one to shy away from the presence of human suffering, Haneke’s film displays illness and aging in all its humiliating, debilitating misery. What some might find more unexpected, those who had written the filmmaker in question off as a callous, misanthropic observer of humanity and little else, is the degree of tenderness and warmth, if of a nature distinct to Haneke, present in the film.
Amour opens with the police breaking down the doors of the couple’s home to find Anne, surrounded by petals deceased in her home bed, and from that point on, it’s an almost constant assault of discomfort, misery and pain. There is a scene where a pigeon finds its way into the elderly couple’s home through a window, and for a few minutes whilst Georges shoos it away, the audience is treated to momentary relief from the discomfort that exists everywhere else in the film. And it really feels like relief, such is the intensity of the discomfort created through Emmanuelle Riva’s performance. Riva really gives everything to the role, gurgling, moaning and grimacing her way through the latter scenes of her decline in a manner that is so awfully realistic that it hurts to watch. Like those who actually do suffer from dementia, Riva is reduced to a baby, and it is just as humiliating and terrible for both subject and observer in the actor-audience relationship as it is in reality with the patient and relative one. At points Riva is just bawling out “mal (pain)” over and over and even with the awareness it is fiction, you just want it to stop. But there is a reason for this, and without going into any further detail, it is one just as uncomfortable as the suffering portrayed.
Some have said that Amour is a step aside from the rest of Haneke’s films, in its different subject matter and lack of violence, but Amour is still cinematic assault upon the viewer of the variant the director is known to embody. You probably won’t want to watch it again. You might come out feeling depressed, wearied, and possibly even guilty. But you should still endeavour to see it, for past the barrage of discomfort, there is an unflinchingly accurate, human portrait in _Amour, _and one that rings entirely and uncompromisingly true. The relationship between Georges and Anne is touching, tender and palpably genuine, and the commitment one shows to another, despite the insinuation of some kind of ‘monstrous’ past between them, breaks through the suffering that is present ahead of all else. When Georges tells Anne a rambling, inconsequential story of his childhood and past to distract her from her very present pain, the audience can feel that connection. When Georges imagines seeing his wife playing her piano at a time when she is well past doing such a thing, the audience can feel that connection. These touches of emotion amongst a barrage of suffering and hurt make for a layered and evocative experience that will bring out all kinds of compromising feelings in the viewer. Its an emotionally and morally complex film, and one that complexities lie in the details, small suggestive touches forcing considerations in what you would do and feel in the place of the suffering couple. Haneke’s film flawlessly captures what it is like to first ache for a loved one to get better, then in turn to long for them to die.