Having already rightfully nabbed the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival this summer, Michael Haneke’s latest heartbreaker, Amour, receives its UK premiere at the London Film Festival. Emphasis, of course, on the heartbreaker. But to followers of Haneke’s work, this is absolutely no surprise and in fact it is a worthy addition to his already hard-hitting and provocative back-catalogue of the human condition.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are a well-off, culturally inclined couple of ex-music teachers, spending their retirement in a beautiful Parisian apartment. Their love is palpable and tender from the opening scenes which show a clear adoration for one another and a shared passion for music at a concert . But one day, Anne suffers a stroke, leaving her paralysed down one side of her body. Terrified of hospitals, Anne begs her husband to let her stay at home. Georges of course obliges, transforming their home into a safe haven where he can help his beloved wife through recovery. Only after a second attack, Anne is left unable to move or speak.
An overriding motif of Amour is this sense of suffocation, reflected not only in Anne’s own physical entrapment but also the protective cocoon Georges creates in the apartment itself, a timecapsule of their former lives. Why would they need anything else, as long as they have each other? Shot almost entirely in the apartment, Haneke expertly establishes a sense of intimacy and closeness through his setting but, at the same time, a strangely sinister atmosphere as we observe the deterioration of Georges as he must watch the woman he lives for vanish before his eyes, helpless. In a touching early scene, Georges realises there are many stories he hasn’t told Anne, so now, in her final days, he takes the time to share touching moments from his youth to entertain her, and perhaps for him, to make sure he can let her go knowing he has given everything of himself to her.
It’s voyeuristic viewing, peering into the couple’s former life through Haneke’s characteristic slow-panning shots of book-lined walls and empty corridors. An unused baby grand stands in the corner of the salon, a distant memory not only of the wonderful life Anne and Georges built together but also their shared intellect and passion for the joys of music and culture to be enjoyed in life. It is thoughts like this that pain so much as these very things are moved beyond Anne’s reach, as the stroke not only robs her of movement and function but also her identity.
While love and death are by no means new themes for filmmakers, in Amour Haneke offers an original and truly devastating tale of the intimate intensity of both. Prompting the coining of the phrase ‘Hanecholia’, Haneke once again merges that overwhelming sense of melancholia with the feeling you’ve just seen something truly beautiful, from the performances to each crafted shot. Amour is certainly no easy viewing but a necessary one; painful, visceral and all-consuming to the final frame – just like life and love itself.
Amour is screening as part of the 56th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) at 12.15pm on Sat 13 October at:
38 Curzon Street
Amour goes on general release in the UK from 16 November.