Thursday 15 November 2012

Amour review

Amour (12A, 127 mins)
Director: Michael Haneke
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Michael Haneke picked up his second Palme d’Or at Cannes this year but, unlike his previous winner, The White Ribbon, the punishing ordeal that is Amour offers little reward beyond its surface grimness and gloss.

It opens with fire and police officers breaking into an apartment, where an elderly woman is found in a sealed off room, dead on her bed and surrounded by flowers. Let this opening be a warning as to where the film is headed, as we go back to meet Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a well-healed Parisian couple in their 80s. They still enjoy an active lifestyle, but Georges begins to notice Anne sort of spacing out, and it’s discovered that she’s suffered a stroke.

As Anne becomes progressively more sick and dependent, Georges struggles to care for her through daily life, as Haneke probes and lingers, and as the indignities for Anne increase, the reasons for continuing to watch slip away. Other than a concert visit at the beginning we don’t leave the apartment, and it soon becomes oppressive, as the Austrian director exhibits his talent for presenting horror in the mundane. It’s a demanding film, and one that never feels sorry for itself, or lapses into melancholy, utterly rejecting sentiment. Obviously it’s hardly a laugh riot, but nor is it entirely devoid of humour. But it’s such a cold, composed affair kept at such a clinical distance that there’s no way of penetrating its armour.

Many scenes outstay their welcome and the overwhelming desire grows just to see it end. What keeps it from being just too taxing for words is what gives the film its title - the 50 or 60 years of love that exist between these two that the ravages of illness and death can’t rend, and Georges’ commitment to Anne is quietly heartbreaking.

The acting is small, subtle, and beautiful, and every moment is crafted with precision and the utmost skill by Haneke. But it’s not really enough. As a piece of filmmaking, Amour is a towering achievement, but it’s near unwatchable cinema, and it’s difficult to fathom why anyone would want to put themselves through it in the name of entertainment.

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