4 out of 5
Goerges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are an elderly affluent couple who live in a beautiful Parisian apartment. Anne is going through some unwelcome changes, changes that can befall anyone at her age. Georges, loyal husband that he is, stays by her side during this trying time. In sickness and in health, indeed.
Anne, still in a clear-headed state, makes Georges promise that she will never enter a hospital again, and he begrudgingly complies because of his love and respect for her. Whether that is the wisest decision to make is debatable. The two only have each other to depend on, which inevitably brings about emotional instability and unhealthy thoughts. The infirm Anne falls deeper and deeper into existential depression and Georges becomes increasingly resentful of the situation he is faced with.
Amour is deliberately paced, filled with breathtakingly morose scenes and repetitive ones that serve to acquaint viewers with the daily routine the couple is forced to go through. It is almost as if director Michael Haneke wants the viewers to have time to reflect on what they would do in the same situation: the three-dimensional characters are beautifully written and acted, yet what they go through is universal.
Once Anne’s state deteriorates the setting is restricted to their apartment. Viewers become eerily familiar with their living quarters, which makes the film that much more insular and claustrophobic. The two cannot get out of their dire situation, and neither can the viewers. Anne and Georges deal with Anne’s medical condition in private, barely letting their worried daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) in. Georges and Anne do not feel it is productive to discuss Anne’s state, and when outsiders, like Anne’s former student in a tragic scene, wish to inquire about her, they are met with resistance. Georges takes on the role of caretaker with seemingly great ease, filled with patience, selflessness, and good-will. Being a loving partner cannot make his wife any better, though, and once he comes to that distressing realization, things change within him. When Anne’s self-dignity dwindles and Georges makes an attempt to make light of the situation by saying that ‘it’s not so dramatic,’ it only highlights how bad it really is and how forlorn things have gotten.
Haneke chose to focus on life’s most tragic stage, but much like the couple, it remains unsentimental. Georges’ love for Anne is strong, but it cannot repair the irreparable. This love can lead to destruction, of the mind and of the soul, and Haneke and his actors fearlessly tackle this painful truth.