Directed by Michael Haneke
You do not expect to come away unscathed when you see the film title Amour with the name Michael Haneke underneath. This is aesthetically moving and psychologically punishing, deeply European filmmaking (the Academy Award nomination in the general category comes as a pleasant shock) at its unforgivable best.
There is nothing beautiful about pain, whether this pain is physical or mental, and yet on a purely artistic level Amour is absolutely gorgeous. Both Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant make it so. Their performances are effortless and breathless. In a way, you feel they are not even acting. Don’t need to act. This is so much more than just being in front of the camera and acting out the scripted words and movements. They have this beguiling, formidable, mature presence that will make your ‘real life’ look silly half-joke, half-fiction.
Amour is a slow-burning, meditative study of old age and the inevitable loss of the loved one. Georges sees his wife (both former piano teachers) suffer a stroke and gradually lose her physical and mental powers. Haneke shows it all, bit by bit, immersing you in all the despair and disturbing naturalness of the situation. He does so through long, tense silence, shaky hands and wrinkled faces, as well as some of the most powerful scenes you will ever see. There’s that unnerving pigeon sequence whose obvious symbolism, again, has this striking, no-nonsense character to it. There’s that masterful moment of poignant genius when Georges sees his dying wife play the piano – beautifully, the way it used to be. But then he switches off the CD player, and the music ceases, giving way to a silent, empty room.
Basically, there’s just one flat, two actors and a director (the supporting cast is good, though). The closed space does the job effectively. I guess on a personal level I did not find Amour as psychologically merciless as The Piano Teacher, but what a brutal and bruising experience nevertheless. Mesmerising, too. Compelling. Moving. And almost unbearably beautiful.
I do not really know how much a person under, say, 30 can take out of this film. God knows. In fact, if you meet a young person gushing over Michael Haneke’s Amour, you have every reason on Earth to dismiss that young person as pretentious or, worse, deeply troubled. For the record, I’m 26.