Sunday, 27 January 2013

Film Review: Amour (2012)

Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert

Georges and Anne are a married couple in their eighties, still happy and in love after, we assume, several decades of marriage; one morning Anne suffers a stroke and is paralyzed down her right side and Georges must look after her. Anne’s condition gets progressively worse throughout the film and she dies. That is Amour from beginning to end.

For a film so simple in plot, Michael Haneke’s Amour is a remarkably watchable film, yet it is as uncompromising and unflinching as any film from 2012. The film is essentially a one act screenplay taking over two hours to unfold, but in the hands of Haneke such an eventless story becomes one of the year’s greatest cinematic achievements.

What makes this film to successful is that we know so little about the couple. The film begins just a day before this eighty year old woman suffers a stroke, not in the previous decades of her life. Who she was and what she did means nothing because a stroke can happen to anyone, so Haneke doesn’t fill his script with backstory and flashback because it changes nothing. There is nothing she or her husband can do about the inevitable demise of her health and the eventual end of her life and this tone is carried throughout the film because that is reality. Amour never once pretends to be a film about the battle to overcome, there is no happy ending, just the end.

A constant there throughout Michael Haneke’s films is watching and seeing. In Funny Games he shows his audience what they expect and then gives them the opposite; In Caché he opens the film with a videotape being watched but it’s not until over three minutes in that we, his audience, realise what we are actually watching. In Amour Haneke’s trademark still camera, wide angles, and muted interiors are ever-present and the takes are often uncomfortably long between edits, all of which forces his audience to observe and study the scene for they are given no other choice. Haneke wants us to watch in realtime as Georges helps Anne into her wheelchair, or as she suffers her stroke or as she struggles to talk coherently. When we watch a Michael Haneke film, we are never truly comfortable and Amour is undeniably hard to watch at times but is all the better for being so.

By allowing the scenes to play out without the need to cut from face to face or angle to angle, Amour becomes another film about watching for there is nowhere to hide, and moreover, why should there be? There is no musical score either to accompany the emotions, just images and the outstanding performances from the two leads; Jean-Louis Trintignant and the deservedly Oscar-nominated Emmanuelle Riva.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: We should be thankfully a director like Haneke still makes films his way and can show us the humanity in love and death in the way he does in Amour without a trace of melodrama or sentimentality. It is a film unlike any other from 2012 and, given its subject matter, is one of the most engaging, too. It is near-perfect film making from one director who has never pandered to mainstream expectations and long may that continue.

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