Directed by Michael Haneke
No one hurts as good as Haneke. And even if you don’t consider yourself a disciple of Sacher-Masoch, that other whimsical Austrian storyteller, you make exceptions for Benny’s Video and Caché and The White Ribbon—and Funny Games twice. Perhaps watching these movies we feel most fully like voyeurs, which is what we always are, we filmgoers, filmmakers, film downloaders—sinners. Haneke enraptures us, and in the course of this film we’re duly punished. I’ve never dreaded anything I looked forward to as much as Amour.
Though the Palme d’Or winner is not as broadly bleak as White Ribbon, it’s ethnographic on both a family scale and the scale of European cinema. Haneke’s elderly leads, Georges and Anne, are Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, and it’s impossible to watch the retired octogenarian couple of Parisian music teachers without mentally plumping, tucking back, searching for The Conformist’s bottom lip and the spirit of the French New Wave. That spirit—Anne—is aging, paralyzed, and increasingly subject to the indignities of a sudden and drastic decline. When their daughter visits and demands to see her mother, the devoted Georges, who has been performing all the nursing tasks he can, gives her the gist of it. All that doesn’t need to be shown, he says. But it will be, says Haneke, and Georges’s final interaction with his wife is as much an indignity (to both of them) as it is amour or mercy.
The pleasures of what Haneke puts us through come from his mastery; he knows we’ll bear long, excruciating stretches of quiet inaction for episodes like the visit of a student, when pianist Alexandre Tharaud, essentially playing himself, visits as an old student of Anne’s and can’t hide his shock at her condition. Alexandre is young, talented, pale and black-clad, and comes to the door looking like a decorous Death. It’s the only look we get in Amour at such an unlikely ending.
Opens December 19