An “intelligent, frightening and ultimately heart-breaking spectacle”, JAMES MITCHELL hails the Palme d’OR winner as an artistic triumph (but still thinks it should come with a warning).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that “Amour” is just a soppy love film. It’s in French after all.
However, the “love” in question is not the whimsical sort that you’d find in a Hugh Grant classic. Nor is it the reassuring, all conquering love that you might expect from a typical Disney flick. Rather, this is a behind closed doors, burdensome love – the kind of love that makes life as a bachelor seem not just preferable but essential.
Having been forewarned by my editorial team that Amour was a bit “intellectual” (with the implication that it might prove too much for me) I recruited the most culturally aware, sensitive individual I could find on short notice to accompany me. So, grabbing the nearest girl, we headed straight for the cinema.
The first thing worth mentioning is that the direction is both brave and effective. There’s an unwritten rule in film and TV that a camera angle should never last longer than seven seconds (since that is the average human attention span). Suffice to say, Haneke couldn’t give a damn if you’re paying attention. It is evident from the first five minutes that – with the silent opening credits followed by a long, protracted scene of people shuffling into a theatre – Haneke is going to show us what he wants and nothing else. As a result of his stubbornness, he has created a truly mesmerizing film.
The film revolves around an elderly couple who have to deal with the trauma of terminal illness. The two lead actors execute their respective roles with near perfection. Emmanuelle Riva’s transformation post-stroke is so well acted that it’s painful to watch. Jean-Louis Trintignant’s part as her carer/husband is also performed with stunning realism. Combined, the two actors manage to produce an intelligent, frightening and ultimately heart-breaking spectacle. The script is well crafted, taking care not to be gratuitous. Small, poignant moments are used to punctuate the emotional turmoil that neither the husband, nor his daughter (Isabelle Huppert) can articulate. Indeed, for much of the film, the weight of what the characters are dealing with renders speech almost redundant.
The film also manages to encompass a degree of symbolism (although admittedly, my plus one alerted me to this) – for example, she pointed out that an attempt to break into their house signified the entry of Death, and a story about being held in quarantine was representative of the couple’s deteriorating relationship. The film is certainly intellectually challenging and I probably missed many of Amour’s other, subtle points.
Can I honestly say I enjoyed this film? Not really, no. It was emotionally draining and I’ve been a bit depressed ever since I saw it. Then again, enjoyment is quite clearly not the aim here. It is an original, uncompromising look at a difficult issue. If (like me) you believe that the foremost purpose of art is to provoke an emotional reaction, then Amour is art in its highest form.
However, if the pressure of deadlines and the winter blues are creeping up on you, then for God’s sake don’t see it. Or at least wait until you’re feeling a bit perkier. For everyone else, there is no excuse to miss this one. Indeed, it is very rare to have felt privileged to have seen a film.
Fortunately, Amour is just such a rare thing.