Good or indeed great films about older couples seem to be something of a rarity, but there are those unique films that tackle the subject with elegance and intelligence. Masterpieces such as Make Way for Tomorrow and Tokyo Story immediately come to mind and Michael Haneke’s latest, Amour, now earns a place alongside those very special films.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmualle Riva) are the ageing couple at the centre of this particular story, which begins with a dark coda revealing the bleak direction that we are heading towards. A crushing reminder of what, in a way, we are perhaps all heading towards in life.
Despite this opening, which of course effects the way in which we then view the proceedings, as soon as the film then flashes backwards to a starting point it is almost impossible to imagine this grim end for this lively, sweet and witty couple. Through some wonderful shorthand in the writing in these early stages we are entirely convinced by the relationship between the two leads and very quickly understand how their relationship, of many years, works.
Then Anne becomes ill and everything begins to change. Not in the melodramatic way that we so often see in film but with a moment of a catatonia that is chilling to watch. Anne’s health slowly declines and as George struggles to look after her we see the toll that this takes on their relationship. The woman that we see towards the beginning of the film, the woman that George married, slowly disappears. Her memory begins to break apart and she becomes less and less able to do everyday tasks as her body begins to fail her. Emmanuelle Riva’s transformative performance as Anne is something really quite special and combined with the extraordinary but subtle work from Jean-Louis Trintignant it is almost difficult to see these actors beyond these roles, even in spite of their rather incredible filmographies. If you haven’t already seen these actors a number of times in other films then you have a host of extraordinary films ahead of you.
Capturing these exceptional performances and telling the story with skill and the utmost class is Michael Haneke, a director who is perhaps most known for an intellectual approach rather than an emotional one. Amour is an incredibly emotional film though and one that it is hard to sit through without a flood of tears streaming down your face. Haneke’s clinical approach is still evedent in Amour but it is in service of an emotional story and the beautifully written characters whose lives and relationship we are asked to invest in.
Haneke’s use of very carefully detailed staging and exquisitely simple but effective framing never interferes with an emotional connection, every choice is clearly in service of telling the story in the best way possible. Subtle and small choices make for incredibly important differences to the way in which an audience engages with a film and this is something that Haneke has always seemingly understood. Here changes to the set design, for instance, key us in to the changes to the characters lives in ways that many audiences may only experience on a subconscious level.
There are only two instances in which Haneke is overt in ‘making a point’, a dream sequence and a sequence with a pigeon, but these are still relatively understated. The latter is a metaphorical sequence that for myself belaboured a point that I didn’t need restating, but there are audiences for which this will almost certainly work better and carry much more weight,
Haneke has always had control and focus in his filmmaking that is impossible not to appreciate and respect even when it is service of something that feels almost foolhardy, Funny Games and its American remake comes to mind, but here this focus is aimed directly at an emotional connection and it is effective to a devastating degree.