Amour (love) is a word that needs no translation. It is the subject to all forms of artistic expression. In this day and age, however, it has been glamorized to fairytale status. Very rarely does cinema challenge this ideal and offer perspective of life and love beyond the prime years.
Michael Haneke, the director of The White Ribbon, wrote and directed Amour, a work of brilliance, depicting the frighteningly realistic struggles of watching one’s beloved depleting. Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a loving elderly couple in their 80’s, face drastic change when Anne has two strokes (within a period of time) leaving her paralyzed and speech impaired. Georges takes it upon himself to take care of his beloved wife, promising never to send her back to the hospital or abandon her to an old age home. Unaware of the devastating fate that lies ahead, Georges helps Anne with tenderness and remains loyal to his promise, regardless of their daughter Eva’s constant nagging. Eva (Isabelle Huppert) seems unable to appreciate the rare beauty of her father’s devotion to her mother as she struggles with an adulterous husband.
Haneke cleverly uses the apartment as the confined space, that once was a place of comfort and serenity, to represent the walls of imprisonment and emotional suffocation the characters now find themselves in. The audience, like the characters, never leave the home. The only connection to the outside world is the people who come and go through the front entrance and the window facing toward the courtyard. The only time we really see Anne and Georges away from home is at the beginning of the film. We see them in the auditorium at a concert, but the camera is facing them as if they are looking at us. Soon we change positions and watch them. It beckons the question of perspective. What would your life portray if all the world was a stage? What part do you play? At what point do we acknowledge that the love might become too much to bear when facing such tragedy? Or do we endure because of love?
Not only do we see the realities we all must face in growing old, but the excellent performances by Trintignant and Riva reveals insight to the emotional implications that go with it. There is the frustration, the denial, the embarrassment, the wish to be relieved of the incredible burden, the guilt, and intense strain, the weight of responsibility and that helpless sorrow of watching the one you love deteriorating before your eyes. Anne says that imagination and reality have very little in common, but when your beloved is dying, can we fault Georges for imagining Anne as she was, and letting that become his reality?
Anne: There’s no point in going on living. That’s how it is. I know it can only get worse. Why should I inflict this on us, on you and me?
Georges: You’re not inflicting anything on me.
Anne: You don’t have to lie, Georges.
Georges: Put yourself in my place. Didn’t you ever think that it could happen to me, too?
Change is inevitable, sometimes gradual, and sometimes drastic. How we cope reveals much about our character, but to what cost? Amour is the true expression of love in its rarest and most honest form, with an astonishing cast (that will literally leave you in awe), script and skilled directing this is a masterpiece!
Anne: It’s beautiful.
Anne: Life. So long.