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Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The Art Of Silence And Death, By Michael Haneke
Emmanuelle Riva as Anne, comforted by Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges in
Michael Haneke's "Amour". Sony Pictures
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Tuesday, December 18,
One of the most intelligent and sincere conversations about death and old age
I've ever seen on film, "Amour", Michael Haneke's drama, is a careful look at
former music teachers Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle
Riva), in their eighties, as they cope with the deterioration of Anne, who
abruptly lapses into dementia. Georges and Anne love each other very much.
They've been married for many years. Anne's daughter Eva (Haneke alumna
Isabelle Huppert) makes several visits to their sparse house in Paris.
Georges' male music student (Alexandre Tharaud), a borderline smug sort, has
emerged as a renowned musician who performs concerts worldwide. Like
Georges he struggles with his feelings around Anne's rapidly debilitating
You feel life slowly pass you by in Mr. Haneke's "Amour", a film far more
restrained in the biting contempt or punishments the director often has for his
audience ("Funny Games"). Georges himself cannot move on with life
however, and while everyone in his life, including Anne, is doing so, there's
undeniable tension within Georges. He's uneasy about life -- not
necessarily his own -- but with loneliness and the idea that each of the people
he loves will eventually be ready to leave and move on and leave him behind.
(I suspect Georges wants to really live but he's not being allowed to.)
They have their own families and concerns, and as matters are discussed they
appear trivial and banal, reinforcing the loneliness of the caring, dutiful
Georges. Perhaps he wants to be alone. Mr. Trintignant, France's
legend, does fine work both concealing and not concealing his anger, his pain
and his burden.
Aside from relatives and friends, the people who visit Georges, like grocery
shoppers, generally offer kind words, empathy and good wishes. "We're very
impressed with how you're handling everything," one says. Georges
appreciates the sentiment but looks as if such social niceties further pressure
and constrain him. None of these well-wishers are going through what he's
going through, but Georges never becomes self-righteous about his difficult
"Amour" often plays in flashbacks, underlining memories, beauties and
importantly providing a context for the feelings Georges has and for what he is
confronted with. The flashbacks are a safety net for the director, serving
as an inoculation from charges of cruelty and meanness. These affectionate
flashbacks elevate "Amour" from rote status to organic, sweet and touching.
To his credit Mr. Haneke displays a gentle hand throughout. "Amour" can
easily be viewed as Mr. Haneke's most personal film and is
one of the year's
Some of the best moments in "Amour" are when nothing at all is said, when we
absorb dimly-lit shots and close-ups of Georges and Anne separately, quiet,
wordless, isolated in their fears and worries. The truth of these moments
are captured beautifully. I felt them. It's hard not to. All
of the talk around and outside those few, discrete silences add up to avoidance,
discomfort or a stark reality. The inevitable questions ring loudly: how
does one "prepare" for death? And how, if at all, do long-lasting
relationships and love prepare us any better or any worse for death? These
and other questions will affect every single one of us, and "Amour" considers
them, taking them on in an earnest way. How, and to whom, do we talk about death?
To our parents? To our spouses? When do we talk about it? Is
silence and avoidance the best way? How do we define and shape death?
Mr. Haneke is aware that death is all around us, and "Amour", which won this
year's Palm D'Or at Cannes, is a slow, absorbing crawl to the finish, without
being laborious or gratuitous.
There's a suddenness to death, whether in the shocking, traumatic events of last
week in Newtown, Connecticut that targeted the very young, or in the gradual
decline of the aged, or in seeing a loved one on life support who can no longer
communicate. "Amour" has a heartbreaking look at the latter two but avoids
exploitation of very delicate subject matter. I was struck by the maturity
and humaneness of Mr. Haneke's approach. Early on we see a stark, powerful
image, a fleeting shot of finality. It's a shot that defines the
8,000-pound elephant in the room. There's respect and dignity in the
image. Mr. Haneke doesn't linger on it. Maybe because it is too
painful to him. It was jarring to me.
In "Amour" it's clear that Mr. Haneke takes the subjects of love and death very
seriously and wants to engage audiences rather than brutalize them. Here
the torment isn't for the audience but for the characters. Mr. Haneke's
"Amour" is a most unsentimental experience. There's an austerity and
bluntness to this intimate and shrewdly observed film but it is stripped of the
loathsome indulgences avid followers of Mr. Haneke expect. On the subject
of death and matters in general though, "Amour" isn't mawkish, it is respectful,
beautiful and poetic. "Amour" doesn't wallow in disease or tragedy,
instead it takes us on an adult journey of consideration and pain, contemplation
The dialogue, some of it thoughtful and riveting, between Georges and Eva form
the heart of "Amour". Their conversations are well-acted. Mr.
Haneke's screenplay gives space and weight to words, to silences and to
uncomfortable scenes. There's real-life identification with what is being
discussed by Georges and Eva. Not too many people who see "Amour" will say
that they don't know someone (or is someone) in the position of any of
the film's characters. We know how life will end, and we know what will
happen in "Amour". The only question is, how will Mr. Haneke get there?
Georges's affection for Anne, in the way he speaks to her, particularly in the
final stages of the film, is tender and moving. Death in film is often
riddled with clichés, especially when it involves senior citizens. Death
of the aged is filled with bitterness and mocking and dismissed in comedies and
dramas alike. Mr. Haneke offers a touch of that here though solely in a
scene via one disagreeable character, a young woman who believes her ability to
be an effective caretaker has been questioned. The usually mild-mannered
Georges scolds her. Throughout "Amour" Georges looks to jettison burdens
and people who care. He is tired: tired of the routine, tired of the
niceties, even tired of his daughter-in-law Eva, who is very concerned about her
"Amour" is an exercise in sensitivity, complexity and tastefulness, a worthwhile
and valuable effort in filmmaking. Ms. Riva makes Anne, a rigidly realist
figure, achingly authentic. It's a stunning, disturbing performance;
self-contained but not self-aware. You never feel that Ms. Riva (or Mr.
Haneke) works to solicit your pity. Admittedly I was frustrated by Anne's
growing limitations, even angered by her decline. The way Mr. Haneke
shoots Ms. Riva and the film with his typically fixed camera and lack of edits
in scenes offers the only moments when he may try to provoke. Yet what we
see is truth and life staring us in the face, up close and very personal.
Ms. Riva's strong work offers a gateway to the compassion and empathy we feel
for Georges, and it resonates unmistakably at the end.
Also with: William Shimell.
"Amour" is rated PG-13 by the Motion
Picture Association Of America for mature
thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language.
In French with English language subtitles. The film's running time is two hours and
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