Review: Amour (Title Can’t be Translated)


Just days after watching Naomi Watts heroically survive a tsunami, I watched Michael Haneke’s newest drama Amour, and found myself oddly haunted by what Haneke had done to Watts in Funny Games. That magazine glossy artfilm gave more to torture porn than any chainsaw that ever came out of Texas.

Haneke’s called critics lazy for assuming his previous themes (or in his case, motivations) can help untangle his films. This suggests I’d be lazy saying his record of hating on the bourgeois can help me understand the self-serving motions of the affluent old married couple in Amour. Hanneke exposed in a handful of interviews (New York Magazine* among them) that Amour was inspired by the loss of his great aunt, whom he nursed on her deathbed and saved from suicide during her decline. It’s only fair to say that witnessing our loved ones in the throws of grave illness is a heartbreaking mindfuck, and such trauma should render most post-traumatic stress responses forgivable. Yet, now that I've seen Amour, I distrust that view.

Anne (Emmanuel Riva) makes Georges (Jean-Louis Trintingnant) a charming breakfast, as she has a thousand times before, but today she has what might be a stroke or a catatonic episode. Scared, angry and confused, Georges takes her to the doctor, but Anne understands the gravity of her illness and begs him to let her degenerate at home, away from the scrutiny (and medical care) provided by any hospital. In Amour, selfishness is a constantly twisting knife, as evidenced when Georges asks their coolly removed daughter (Isabelle Huppert) to give her dying mother space and not visit. “Go on with your life,” George tells her. So much for the healing love of family.

For Georges, dignity trumps survival, and since Anne's condition can only decline, Georges’ sensitivity to her plight can only grow more ferocious and misguided. When a brusque hospice nurse puts a mirror up to Anne as she dolefully moans, Georges fires her. Dignity is a high value, indeed, but the implication vanity is attached to it degrades Georges’ protective impulses.

Naturally, with so many films out about the joys of late life (Quartet), the adventures of the elderly (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) or the thrills of new love among older bodies (Last Chance Harvey), we should be able to stomach one unflinching drama about the exhaustive trials of loss. We even have films about accepting the limitations of our aging loved ones (Away from Her), but what Amour lacks that the others provide is some form of redemption--or maybe just a bit of humanity. Death is the natural end point to life and no one needs to sugar coat that but Amour tastefully serves up misery without providing either tragedy stricken or heroically brave responses to it: Haneke's replaced those more relatable reactions with remove and socially appropriate reserve. For all the ache Emmanuel Riva's performance creates, for the memories of loss and dread she provokes, Haneke pollutes them with something (call me lazy), that resembles a hate for the rich. In a film that's so explicitly cathartic for the filmmaker, there's a whole lotta catharsis withheld for the audience. Maybe he's trading penchant for audience "raping" for abstinence?**

If financial success is the eventual endgame of the careerist and death is the eventual endgame of the living, doesn’t it seem easy to trade one conflicting endgame with another? If not easy, then somehow evolved? Any director can tell us he’s not attached to his themes, but make a movie like this and see if anyone believes him.


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