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June 9, 2013

Amour (2012)
Director: Michael Haneke
Actors: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert


Synopsis: An elderly couple in Paris, happily enjoying their retirement, reach a watershed moment in their relationship when the wife (Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a minor stroke. This puts pressure on the husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) to care for her – a pressure increased by the wife’s further debilitating second stroke, and her desire not to be syphoned off to hospital.

Review: Michael Haneke’s colossal, pulverising essay on ageing and death is in many respects not the austerely beautiful ode to love that the majority of fans and commentators have taken it to be, but a deceptively sadistic and disingenuous treatment of its ‘failures of the flesh’ subject matter.

One thing not in doubt is Haneke’s absolute mastery over the cinematic medium. There isn’t a single frame, edit or camera move which isn’t highly strategised, and it certainly embellishes Haneke’s intention to suppress his two main characters within the walls of their lovely, if slightly shabby and increasingly oppressive, Paris apartment. There are moments where I think Haneke taps into something more humane and profound in his protagonists’ plight – in particular, the gorgeous scene where Trintignant is sat gazing adoringly at his wife playing gracefully at the couple’s piano, until we realise it’s an elegiac illusion, brought about when he’s mournfully listening to a recording after she’s fallen ill.

Unfortunately, I just find something inescapably sadistic and tyrannical about Haneke’s treatise on old age here. And by ‘sadistic’, I don’t mean in the colloquial sense, but in the true meaning of the word, as if Haneke cares only to compel his protagonists into a pre-determinedly grim end-game of (huge spoiler alert) the wife losing her mind and body to such an extent that she becomes infantised, and the husband struggling to maintain his dignity, hitting his wife on one frayed occasion and ultimately resorting to euthanasia. I know people will say this is a form of merciful love, but I imagine even the most tragic of degenerative deaths have a greater degree of humanity than Haneke’s bourgeois-bating depressiveness here (Haneke is betrayed by his artificial mechanics of keeping the complexity and variety of the outside world out of the story, and the friends, family members and nurses that do visit are often selfish and one-dimensionally unpleasant). (June 2013)

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