Friday, December 7, 2012

'Amour' Means Love, Haneke Style

Saying Michael Haneke's 'Amour' is one of the best films of the year is nothing new. Ever since the film won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival back in May, critics from around the world have given it nothing but praise. Director Michael Haneke is known for having a cold, distant approach when crafting his usually disturbing movies. Many critics have said, and they're right, that 'Amour' is Haneke's most humanistic, almost warm and sentimental movie. But Haneke is still Haneke. 

This will not be a surprise to anyone who watches the film, since the very first scene sets the tone in a very disturbing way. After that, we meet a nice octogenarian couple: Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Emmanuelle Riva (Anne) are two former music teachers who enjoy literature, art and going out to concerts. They have been married for a long time and it's easy to see they love each other very much. They are each other's companions. Then the bomb drops. Anne's health is getting worse each day and it's Georges that has to take care of her, standing by her side until the bitter end. It doesn't sound like a very uplifting movie. And it really isn't. But it did touch me in a very personal way.

During the past three years, I have had my first three encounters with death. Three people very close to me passed away. Each one had a different cause of death and a different struggle, but the journey was oddly similar in each case. There is always the deterioration of the body, the slowly getting weaker and the unbearable toll that the slow process takes on those who care the most about the eventual deceased. Georges and Anne, thanks to two superb performances by Trintignant and Riva, feel so realistic and specific about their situation that they become universal.  Watching 'Amour' was an emotional roller coaster for me, as every scene evoked a different memory from the past three years. It was like reliving the whole thing in just two hours. 

And then, just like Haneke drops the bomb on his characters when Anne suddenly disconnects herself from reality during dinner in an early scene, he dropped the bomb on me with the final act of the film. Initially disturbing and off-putting, the ultimate outcome of Georges and Anne's journey becomes deeper, more humane and lovelier the more you think about it. And that is kind of scary, but also, the film's biggest triumph. 

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