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Amour (2012)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Intimate and conflicted, tender and raw, Amour explores an elderly couple’s struggle with the hardships of sudden disability. Considering the whole of the film, it is bold on director Michael Haneke’s part to choose this title (“love” in French): While the couple’s love is the clear and central grounding of the film, it’s not clear that all that transpires between them is truly love. And this is precisely Amour’s point: to explore some of the far edges of what love will do and won’t do for another, as well as what is and is not within the bounds of love.

Georges and Anne, an elderly and cultured French couple, live in an upstairs apartment in Paris. They have a quiet and peaceful life together, sometimes playfully teasing with each other. She was a piano teacher, and they enjoy watching and listening to the career success of one of her students, Alexandre. They sometimes see their daughter, perhaps with her husband — Eva and Geoff live abroad and visit from time to time. After a minor stroke, Anne has a medical procedure to prevent further strokes but, against the odds, she is nevertheless severely disabled by a stroke. She and Georges struggle to come to terms with the new state of their lives individually and together, including dealing with (perhaps unwanted) perspectives and advice from Alexandre, Eva, and Geoff. Running time: 127 min.

There is no question that disability is an undesirable thing. Even though people rightly tell stories of greater things that came through another’s — or their own — disability, the thing itself is ugly in its many forms. In Amour, disability is a crucible for questions about meaning and love in our moment-by-moment and day-by-day existence. In life, what is the relationship between enjoyment and meaning? How does love find life in little things? How is life fed by love in little things? Why is life to be valued? What, if anything, can take away its value? How can love best be with and serve a suffering one? What does the character of such service say about the value of the one suffering? Does profound disability take away the person we are? Amour looks steadily and unflinchingly at these questions, and for that it is to be highly commended.

Amour’s filmcraft is excellent. Its intense concentration on moments in Georges and Anne’s lives brings great meaning to facial expressions, hidden assumptions, and long silences. The plot maintains its focus on them: We stay in their apartment, other characters show up sparsely, and when they do the interactions circle around and tie back to Georges and Anne’s situation. Music has been a central part of their lives, so it is significant that director Michael Haneke took the decision that the film would have no soundtrack (front to back, the only music in the film is performed live or played on a CD). Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva's performances capture with grace and grit the relational and emotional struggles of coming to terms with their new lives. The screenplay is spotted throughout with significant phrases and nuanced moments — the film must be taken as a whole, not merely in its major plot moves. Small words said early on play large roles in reading the film. Haneke is wise to end the film with a bit of mystery and ambiguity which, having covered the territory he's covered, allows the film to hang on its questions rather than push a particular answer to the questions.

Is Amour worth the time to see it? Certainly yes, though a qualified yes. I would prefer that viewers see the film only if they are committed to fully engaging with its questions — and to paying very close attention to everything said during the film, especially things said by Anne. Some will, at the film's end, immediately have answers to and positions on its questions yet, even if Haneke himself has publicly favored a particular position, quick judgments would make the film a waste of viewers' time (because the film would have served only as fodder to reinforce previously held views). By the way, I've not sought to find out whether Haneke has made public statements about the film's key questions, but I would caution that, from the film itself (and from Haneke's body of work), there is ample evidence to argue either way what Haneke's position might be.

One scene of violence in the film is particularly disturbing. The film includes scenes of nursing Anne, with one brief bit of nudity during a bathing scene. Anne's moaning expressions of discomfort are realistic, but hard to listen to. There is a bit of strong language.

  • Director: Michael Haneke
  • Screenplay: Michael Haneke
  • Leads: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
  • Cinematography: Darius Khondji
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    NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
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