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Love and Death: Thoughts on the Oscar-Nominated “Amour”

January 30, 2013

By John C.

Amour PosterThe latest from Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke, Amour opens with firefighters breaking down the door of a luxurious apartment in France, only to find the body of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) lying on a bed surrounded by flowers.  There is a crucifix on her chest, as if she is ready to be lowered into the ground.

Right from this hauntingly framed opening scene, we know that this film called Love is going to be one about death, dealing with the end of life in a brutally honest way.  The frontrunner for Best Foreign Language at the Oscars, the heartbreaking film is also in the running for Best Picture.

After this shocking flash forward, we go back to find Anne living with her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).  They enjoy going to concerts together and sharing meals at their small table by the window, but one morning during breakfast, Anne suffers a stroke and her memory starts to fade.  Georges is left to care for her as she slowly and painfully slips away, losing control of her bodily functions and finally her dignity.  But even as her memory starts to fail, Anne remains adamant that she doesn’t won’t to go back to the hospital or stay alive wasting away in a bed.

There are disturbing undertones to the final few scenes of Amour, but through it all everything is done out of love, an emotion that they must painfully and confusingly confront at the end of their lives.  Jean-Louis Trintignant delivers a deeply humanistic performance as a man coming to terms with his own mortality through the failing body of his wife.  Emmanuelle Riva received a Best Actress nomination for her role, a heartbreaking performance that captures all of the physical and emotional trauma as she groans in pain and struggles to talk.  She delivers a performance that eschews glamour for reality, and the way that they look into each other’s eyes is enough to break your heart.

As we watch the medications and personal care products pile up on her bedside table, threatening to overshadow her frail body hidden in the sheets, the experience of watching Amour feels so uncomfortably real that we wait for the painfully sad story to be over.  But it is a testament to the power of the filmmaking that we are stunned into heartbreaking silence when it finally does end, leaving us grasping to handle our emotions.  The way that Michael Haneke directs the film, with many scenes between Georges and Anne being framed in a steady shot, adds to the tragic feeling that we are yet another helpless guest in this apartment.  The music that we hear is all diegetic sound, originating from the classical albums that are played in their living room.

These feelings make Amour a hard one to write about, because the way I have described the emotions I felt could end up turning you away from seeing this film that is absolutely worth seeking out.  What I will say is that with brutal honesty and powerful performances, Amour captures the feeling of watching the last few days in the life of someone who is slowly succumbing into silence.  As Michael Haneke forces us to confront all of the pain that can come at the end of a deeply formed love, we are left heartbroken, but thankful to have had the experience.

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