Oct 6, 2012

REVIEW: Amour (dir. Haneke)

Ahead of seeing Amour, I'd heard all kinds of warnings to the effect that it was hard-going, punishing, the kind of film one tackles only after a two-week bootcamp of Bergman and Tarkovsky to achieve a zen like mastery over one's infantilized demands for "entertainment". What piffle. The film is astounding by any measure. For the first hour, my physiological reactions were exactly those of someone watching a first-rate thriller, maybe one of those Hitchcocks confined to a single apartment like Rear Window or Rope. We have a dead body. The police. News of a break-in. Then a physical assualt that leaves an elderly woman incapacitated and news of an even bigger one coming.  That the assailant is Death makes no different to the verve with which Haneke baits his narrative. “It will go steadily downhill for a while and then it’ll be over,” says Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). There's even a shower-scene, much worse in its way than that in Psycho, with a naked Emmanuelle Riva, calling for her mere at 85 while she is washed by a nurse, her rump spreading unceremoniously on the porcelain. It's not the first time that Haneke has sought to flay our senses with all the shocks the flesh is heir to, but it is the first time he hasn't left us hanging, instead redirecting us towards the immense love in Trintignant's face, peering anxiously into Viera's, or the awkward, intimate waltz they perform every day, as he inches her wheelchair to bed and and back. As human portraiture Amour is unassailable. If we are to treat filmmakers as Gods, they must keep up their end of the bargain and balance the torment and tenderness they dole out. Anything less and the illusion is gone in an instant, the director stands revealed as just another false prophet, usurper, or petty tyrant. Haneke has at times come close to this, and I certainly appreciate why he broke the fourth wall in Funny Games — to acknowledge his own thumb on the scale — although  his brutality has never given off the true musk of a brute, but the opposite: an acute over-sensitivity that feels every slight or act of cruelty as a mortal blow. It's no less open to the charge of disproportion, of course, which is why the invisibility he achieves here is so remarkable. There are two visitors to the Laurent's apartment who are not family: a former pupil of Anna's, now a successful pianist, who visits them while she is still able to speak, but confined to a wheelchair, and who sends them a note afterwards, thanking them for the "sad, beautiful moment" they shared with him; and a neighbour who praises Georges for how he is dealing with his dying wife. "Hat's off to you," he says. In both cases, Haneke catches a feeling that had been running through us, the audience, and rather than chastise us for it — these visitors, after all, mean well — he simply puts it up on screen, allowing us to move to one side and push past our notions about the "bravery" or "beauty" of a dying spouse, into uncharted territory. Something close to the end of  Cries and Whispers maybe, my favorite Bergman film if only because Bergman's optimism and pessimism seem held in such perfect balance. Haneke has achieved something similar in this lovely, transfixing, strangely calming film. A


  1. Wow, an "A"! That's a very rare grade for you, Tom! I was initially scared about this movie, since I HATED The White Ribbon, with all the cruxifications and molestation and all kinds of morbid junk, but this one is different, huh? You've certainly piqued my interest!

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  3. Certainly one of the worst films to have to sit through from 2012, along with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Les Misérables.

    Rating: F+

    The plus is because he finally snuffs out her life with a pillow, allowing the movie to finally end.


    p.s. I liked The White Ribbon