Hope at life’s end: Michael Haneke’s Amour

Reviewed in this Essay: Amour. Written and Directed by Michael Haneke. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuele Riva, and Isabelle Huppert. Running time: 127 minutes.

Mainstream cinema often treats death with cosmic reverence or ignores it altogether, but Michael Haneke’s Amour forces its viewers to confront mortality, as intimately and physically as possible. The film is nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director. It tells a simple story: Georges and Anne, retired music teachers living a quiet bourgeois life in Paris, have their world shaken up when Anne has a stroke and severe complications follow. Almost overnight her physical mobility is taken away from her. As the idea of an assisted care facility is anathema to Anne, George is left to take care of her and help her to adjust to a life without all of her old pleasures – music classes, concerts, time spent outdoors.

Haneke’s Amour

Haneke’s film thus unfolds the physical and social struggles of a couple who, short days earlier, were active members of their community. The film itself takes place almost entirely inside their apartment, as Haneke presents vignettes of their new life. George adjusts to his role as caregiver but behind his gentle facade lies a tumult of emotions, ranging from melancholy to anger, relayed in a wonderfully controlled performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant. Emmanuelle Riva, as Anne, possesses the graceful glow of a favourite childhood teacher. As a proud woman fighting to maintain dignity in the midst of her body’s betrayal, her performance is a master class in physical expression.

Throughout the film, Haneke’s characters remind us of the terrible finality of death.  When we lose everything we took for granted, only love will remain.  Amour is a master’s celebration of such enduring love. It is a small miracle of a film that, despite its dark subject, gives the viewer a profound sense of hope.

 

About the author

Mark McConaghy

A doctoral candidate in the East Asian Studies Department at the University of Toronto, Mark McConaghy researches aesthetics, politics, and the dynamics of cultural change. He is co-editor of The Fourteenth Floor, a collaborative space for cultural and political critique.

By Mark McConaghy