Mick Conefrey| | Film
Michael Hankeke’s Amour is by far the best film of the year and should win the Oscar for Best Foreign film. Trintignat and Riva’s performances are terrific and everything from the screenplay to the cinematography is suberb.
I have always enjoyed Michael Haneke’s films and this is his best yet. Cachee and The White Ribbon were both very powerful but they lacked the simplicity and directness of Amour, which is its great strength. The plot is simple: an elderly bourgeois couple, Georges and Anne, played by Jean Louis Trintignat and Emanuelle Riva, share a flat in Paris. They are both former music teachers, shown at the beginning at a piano recital. Suddenly one day, Anne has a momentary attack of dementia, sitting blankly at the kitchen table, oblivious to her husband. As the film progresses, she deteriorates rapidly suffering a series of strokes. Finally she is left bed ridden and demented.
Georges looks after her with stoicism and compassion but as the film shows it is a tremendous struggle. As with all Michael Haneke’s films there are moments of unexpected violence but Amour is more measured and less sensational than his previous work. At the heart of the film is a woman’s sudden mental decline and the effect this has on her husband. Jean-Louis Trintignat gets top billing in most reviews, but Emanuelle Riva’s performance is terrific, capturing the mixture of confusion, terror and numbness that the condition provokes. This is difficult territory for a film, even of the ‘art-house’ variety. Whilst this portrait of dementia is not quite unflinching, Haneke gets close. We see Riva waking up in a pool of her own urine, sitting naked in the shower, moaning like a baby while a nurse washes her. We see her babbling and mumbling incoherently as she descends into an infantile state.
Amour isn’t just a slice of gritty realism. It is a beautifully paced, carefully scripted film, wonderfully photographed by the French Iranian DOP Darius Khondji who has previously worked with David Fincher and Bernardo Bertolucci. There are many magical moments – notably a dream sequence with a startling climax and a striking scene with a pigeon – and some very carefully controlled music sequences, but it is the intensity and coherence of the film as a whole that makes it so special.
Amour captures the helplessness of a condition like dementia and the siege mentality that can develop around the people most directly involved in the care of the patient. From the couple's daughter, played to by Isabelle Huppert, to the friendly concierge and his wife, everyone wants to help, to ‘do’ something, but as Georges her husband realises, there is little that can be done for his wife apart from letting nature take it’s course, more or less quickly.
The film begins at the end of the story and works as one long flashback. As with a many of Haneke’s films, and as in life, there are many ambiguities and mysteries that are left unsolved, but this is not an open-ended film. The un-saids and the un-resolveds are all part of the films theme: how can you cope with something so devastating, so relentless as a condition like dementia? Anne's husband Georges cares for his wife with tenderness and stoicism, but as the film progresses he too is destroyed by the effects of his wife's illness. The end is both inevitable and sad but yet we don't simply feel sorry for the characters. They have lived through awful times with bravery and dignity, their love and the history of their relationship will never be totally erased by these unforeseen events, however bad.
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