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Amour
Director: Michael Haneke
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Stars: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges), Emmanuelle Riva (Anne), Isabelle Huppert (Eva), Alexandre Tharaud (Alexandre), William Shimell (Geoff), Ramón Agirre (Concierge’s Husband), Rita Blanco (Concierge), Carole Franck (Nurse #1), Dinara Drukarova (Nurse #2), Laurent Capelluto (Police Officer #1), Jean-Michel Monroc (Police Officer #2), Suzanne Schmidt (Neighbor)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2012
Country: France / Germany / Austria
Amour Blu-Ray
Amour Note: As it is difficult to discuss the narrative and ideological implications of Amour without revealing some crucial plot information that occurs near the end of the story, you should not read this essay until you have already seen the film.

Set almost entirely inside a quiet, well-appointed Parisian apartment, Michael Haneke’s Amour is a profoundly humane and deeply challenging depiction of the emotional and physical ravages of old age. The simplicity of the title—the French word for “love”—belies the film’s emotional complexities, as Haneke complicates any simplified notions of love by presenting it not as feel-good sentiment or mutually reaffirming passion, but rather as complete devotion of one human being to another. Given that Haneke is a filmmaker best known for austere, formally rigorous films like Funny Game (1997), Cache (2005), and The White Ribbon (2009) that implicate the viewer in the disturbing, violent recesses of human nature, the genuine tenderness and emotional depths of Amour may come as something of a surprise, even though the film’s narrative eventually takes us to an extremely dark place that most will find morally revolting even as they sympathize deeply with the action.

The film’s protagonists are Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), retired octogenarian music teachers whose comfortable twilight years are jarred by the slow deterioration of Anne’s physical and mental states. One morning she appears to suffer a stroke, as she goes temporarily catatonic during their morning breakfast before coming back to consciousness without any memory of what had happened. She undergoes an unsuccessful surgery that leaves her physically compromised and barely able to walk. She pleads with Georges not to take her back to the hospital, and he respects her wishes, keeping her in the apartment and doing everything he can (including the hiring of several nurses) to maintain her quality of life despite the obvious worsening of her condition. Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who is dealing with her own personal problems, wants to help, but there is really nothing she or anyone else can do.

Trintignant and Riva, both of whom are icons of the French New Wave (she having starred in Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour and he having starred in Eric Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s) and have been largely absent from the screen in recent years, give beautifully nuanced performances that successfully convey the well-worn comforts resulting from their characters having lived together for decades. They know each other’s habits and routines, and they have settled into a late-life period of mutual respect and companionship. The manner in which Georges attends to Anne’s physical needs is touching, and the manner in which taking care of her takes a toll on him physically and emotionally is heartbreaking. When he loses his patience and slaps her when she begins refusing to take water in what appears to be an attempt at suicide, it is a moment of shocking violence because we recognize it as a complete breakdown of their relationship. We see the weariness in his body and, even more profoundly, in his eyes, and the unsentimental way in which he deals with Eva’s too-late attempts to show concern (“Your concern is of no help to me,” he says matter-of-factly) betray just how exhausted he is. He is, in many ways, dying right along with her, as every day she suffers takes a little more out of him.

Amour’s striking moral challenge arrives in the final 15 minutes, when Georges, in what appears to be a sudden fit of desperation, smothers Anne with a pillow. At this point, he is completely worn out and can no longer do anything for her except keep her moderately comfortable as she wails over and over again a single word: “Hurt” (which could have just as easily served as the film’s title). This action—so horrible, yet so understandable—is what the film has been building to, although Haneke does not foreshadow it in any way outside of letting us know in the opening sequence that Anne does eventually die. One could argue that Georges has killed her, but one could also argue that he has simply hastened the inevitable; one could argue that he has lost his devotion by recusing himself of the need to care for her anymore, while one could also argue that he has released her of the misery and heartache in which her immobile physical and mental condition has trapped her; one could argue that it is the rejection of true love, while one could also argue that it is the ultimate expression of his love.

The fact that the film can support all of these seemingly contradictory interpretations is key to its emotional and spiritual power. Some critics, especially those writing from an expressly religious perspective, have misread the film as endorsing Georges’s action, even going so far as to accuse it of being pro-euthanasia propaganda, which would be like accusing Romeo & Juliet of being pro-suicide (if you want to read a truly off-the-rails misguided assessment, look up the review at Ted Baehr’s Movieguide). Far from endorsing anything, Amour does something profoundly more challenging and humane, which is present us with a tragic situation and then ask us to empathize with the characters caught in that situation.

Amour Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
Audio French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 surround
SubtitlesEnglish
Supplements
  • “Making of Amour” featurette
  • Q&A with Michael Haneke
  • DistributorSony Pictures Home Entertainment
    SRP$35.99
    Release DateAugust 20, 2013

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Amour looks good on Blu-ray in a 1080p/AVC-encoded high-def presentation. The image, which is a direct digital port (the film was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa), is sharp and rich with detail, which helps emphasize the depth in the often dimly lit interiors of the Parisian apartment setting. Colors are fairly muted throughout, with heavy emphasis on grays and earth tones, but they are well rendered and true to the film’s overall design. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 surround soundtrack is inherently limited in scope since there is no extradiegetic music and most of the soundtrack is dialogue inside the apartment, but ambient effects are nicely situated and a particularly unnerving dream sequence takes good advantage of the surround channels.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    The supplements are a bit light, consisting of only a 25-minute making-of documentary, which includes interviews with Haneke, Trintignant, Riva, and Huppert and quite a bit of behind-the-scenes footage on the studio set, and a fairly lengthy Q&A with Haneke conducted after a screening of the film by New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell (it’s a good interview, but a little difficult to watch since everything has to go through a translator and there is no editing).

    Overall Rating: (4)

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


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