“Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over”
I don’t think there’s much that can be said about Michael Haneke’s Amour that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before. I wanted to go and see it at the cinema when it was first released last year but after a good friend went, he advised me that I would be perhaps best waiting until I could watch it in the privacy of my own home, cognisant of the types of thing that make me bawl (I once wept for 15 minutes outside a cinema after Pan’s Labyrinth destroyed me) and I am forever grateful for his advice. Tears fell down my face for pretty much the entire film but on two occasions, I broke out into full-on sobbing, such is the devastating emotional impact within.
Amour is truly one of the greatest films about old age ever created and possibly one of the finest films I’ve ever seen. Georges and Anne are retired music teachers in the 80s, bobbing along quite merrily in their Parisian apartment when their lives are rocked by a series of strokes that Anne suffers. Bit by bit, she fades away from the person she used to be, further wasted by progressive dementia, and Georges is left to hold together the pieces of their shattered lives, their shared love. Haneke’s camera barely leaves the apartment where the couple’s existence is unutterably changed, and where previously much-loved visitors are no longer welcome, not even their daughter Eva.
The incomparable Isabelle Huppert takes on this role with her effortless integrity and fierce commitment – when will a theatre put her on a British stage so we can witness her live? – but the role of Eva has a further cinematic purpose in becoming the audience’s eye. She’s as much a witness to events as we are, shut out by the uncompromising intimacy between her parents, the ‘amour’ of the title is most definitely not familial. Her stories and recollections of their shared past serve more to demonstrate how much changes during the ageing process, how much falls away as the lives around us evolve just as much as our own.
There are moments of gentleness and even humour, earlier on, that are delightful to watch and the unmistakable lived-in experience of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva makes them achingly beautiful. There are also moments of overwhelming anguish and pain that equally make it unnerving and hard to watch, even as we know we must not look away. Haneke never does anything more than confront us with the inalienable truth of our mortality and the reality that not everything about a life lived can be shared with all and sundry. This is intelligent, uncompromising film-making of the highest order; that said, I don’t know if I could bring myself to watch it again.