Casting aside the clinical calculation of his past work, director Michael Haneke strikes a deep humanistic vein for a harrowing portrait of mortality’s inevitable claim on our existence set against a mundane domestic context. An elderly man, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), so intimately familiar with one another’s every word and gesture, suddenly need to re-draw the parameters of their communications after a strange episode leads to a dire diagnosis. It’s Anne who retreats into disconsolate ruminations as her health deteriorates whilst Georges must tend to her psychological wounds with blunted tools.
It’s the very ‘ordinariness’ of Haneke’s lengthy, detailed screenplay and the scenario that unfolds that makes the drama so compelling; the infirmity of the aged is a subject close to all our hearts and Haneke examines it with a masterly eye for detail. Both actors, legends of French cinema, give flawless performances, whilst Isabelle Huppert is also exceptional in a handful of scenes as Anne’s daughter.
Haneke’s film teaches us that the tenderness of a long life shared is impossible to bridge with complete objectivity and we, as observers, naturally begin to empathise with Georges over time; it’s he who has to view his wife’s identity being slowly reduced by her condition. Hanake’s control of the material never wavers, setting up horrible expectations for a scene or sequence of scenes that, when they arrive, both confirm and erase our worst fears.
Amour (2012) is a film no less devastating for the sensitivity with which it’s handled. It’s both a celebration of love and devotion, and a damnation of our helplessness in the face of what we’re least able to control.