Today: April 17, 2024


Over the course of four decades, Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke has forged a reputation for confounding expectations challenging audiences.

Over the course of four decades,
Austrian filmmaker
Michael Haneke
has forged a reputation for confounding expectations challenging audiences.
early films such as The Seventh
and Benny’s Video, he
suggested that incredible violence lay buried just beneath the surface of a
supposedly reformed post-War Austrian society. In Hidden and Funny Games,
he refocused this social critique upon our willingness to buy into stories even
when they lure us into profoundly ugly psychological states such as a desire
for blood-drenched catharsis or the need for a mystery to be solved regardless
of its social cost. Interestingly, while Haneke’s previous film The White Ribbon harkened back to his
early work on the psychological antecedents of fascism, his latest film Amour approaches these familiar themes from
an entirely different perspective.

Amour opens with a bunch of firemen
forcing their way into an apartment and discovering the carefully laid-out
remains of an old woman. The woman in question is named Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and she was once a
respected piano teacher. The journey to Anne’s death begins when she returns
home from a concert with her somewhat withdrawn and cerebral husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Both quite elderly and reserved, the couple clearly
have a relationship grounded more firmly in mutual respect and shared interests
than in physical intimacy or passionate love. In fact, when Georges expresses
his appreciation for Anne’s physical appearance, she reacts with beautifully
unguarded dismay… surely they are beyond such things?

The following morning, Anne
suddenly goes blank over breakfast. Visibly horrified, Georges attempts to
revive her but his damp towel is prophetically ill-suited for treating what
turns out to have been a massive stroke. With Anne paralysed down one side,
Georges finds himself forced to move from the role of withdrawn companion to
that of a full-time carer who is forced to watch as the woman he loves withers
and dies.

Given that we know that Anne will
eventually die, much of the film’s drama and tension comes from Georges’ troubled
attempts to reinvent himself and his relationships in a way that protects both
Anne’s dignity and his own humanity. Sometimes the negative emotions prompt
Georges to over-react to relatively minor problems because it is much easier to
fire and humiliate a nurse than it is to deal with the feeling that your life
is now nothing more than medication, nappy changes and the grim inevitability
of death. As Anne’s condition continues to deteriorate, we see Georges
attempting to cling to any island of psychological stability he can find. For
example, when the couple’s children turn up and express concern over Anne’s
condition, Georges seems cold and inflexible to the point of outright insanity
but in truth this attitude is entirely self-protective. As Georges points out,
the tears and concerns of his children are of no practical use to him because,
at the end of the say, he is the one who will be left alone to care for Anne.
Better that the children keep their mouths shut than for them to offer the type
of false hope that would make it so much harder for Georges to go back to his
life as a solitary carer. It is in Georges’ interactions with these islands of
stability that we see Haneke’s vision imposing itself upon what would otherwise
be quite a traditional weepy.

Amour can be read as the story of a
withdrawn and cerebral man who is dragged kicking and screaming from his
comfort zone by feelings of love and obligation so overwhelming that they
cannot be reconciled with his extant personality. To his children, Georges
seems insane but, in truth, his behaviour is a symptom of a benign
psychopathology born of the need to cope with the cataclysmic changes imposed
by Anne’s sudden illness. What distinguishes Amour from Haneke’s other works is
that, while many of his films feature people who respond to an unpleasant world
by retreating into exculpatory fantasy, Amour treats Georges’ actions with
compassion rather than condemnation and it is precisely this profound
compassion and understanding that makes Amour such a powerful and beautiful

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Simon Killer

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