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2012 | 127 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1



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Theatrical release date

 19 December, 2012
 16 November, 2012

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Amour Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 17, 2013

Director Michael Haneke has built a career out of punishing cinema, slyly merging doomsday dramatics with a bleak sense of pace and an occasional burst of dark humor. Think of “The Piano Teacher,” “Cache,” and “Funny Games,” all powerful, sinister snippets of human behavior, but not films that demand a revisit outside of cinema education purposes. “Amour” is perhaps the least outwardly appealing effort from Haneke to date, asking viewers to watch a woman slowly succumb to the horrible effects of a stroke, while her husband carries on almost helplessly, confronted with the reality of death and separation for the first time in his life. It’s upsetting material lined with lead by Haneke, who searches for the meaning of love but can’t help but dwell on the details of decay.

Georges (Jean-Louise Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are a happy couple living inside a weathered Paris apartment, carrying on with a marital routine that’s endured for an extended period of time. A former piano teacher watching one of her former pupils rise to fame, Anne is caught in a daze one afternoon, unresponsive to Georges for a brief amount of time. When the episode carries into a stroke, Anne is left paralyzed on one side, now dependent on her husband for mobility, making Georges promise that he will never return her to the hospital for care. Rebuilding their life, Georges watches his beloved deteriorate into a shell of her former self, slipping into dementia, while daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is unsure of her father’s plan to keep Anne at home with occasional visits from nurses, away from the disposal of a long-term care facility. As time passes, Georges clings to his memories of Anne as she begins to take proactive measures to secure her own death.

I’m not sure what type of audience Haneke is making “Amour” for, with the premise alone sure to turn off a majority of potential ticket buyers not in the mood to watch a woman die for two hours. While I’ve been mildly amused and deeply haunted by the director’s work, “Amour” represents something of a softer side to the helmer, who reveals sensitivities here that have never been exposed before. A master of poker-faced filmmaking and static Euro horrors, Haneke (reportedly drawing from a similar experience in his own family) loosens his grip on the innate evils of the world to make a movie about compassion, inspecting the elasticity of marital love as it enters its final moments, where habits and common behaviors are erased, replaced with care and concern, with frustrations and despair.

Perhaps it goes without mentioning that “Amour” isn’t an easy sit, breaking down Anne’s descent into immobility with nightmarish minutiae, watching her devolve from a stymied spirit in a wheelchair to a quaking, mumbling woman in bed, requiring diaper changes and feedings. It’s a harrowing depiction of a stroke’s aftereffects, with Haneke slowing the pace of the picture to reflect the new reality, exposing medical and mealtime rituals, while peripheral characters, including a careless nurse who cruelly forces Anne to view her own reflection, march in and out of view. While Eva remains a critical voice in the argument for long-term care, “Amour” remains on Georges and Anne inside their apartment, depicting the growing discomfort of the situation while illuminating the dedication of the couple, positioning this hellish experience as a test of adoration, brilliantly captured in the two lead performances, which are devastating, medically accurate, and profoundly expressive with internalized emotion. Haneke doesn’t go for tears, he wants the gut-wrenching feel of helplessness, and he achieves it through crushing work from Trintignant and Riva.

A question of length does arrive during “Amour,” which lingers on pain for two protracted hours, reinforcing Haneke’s interests in making his characters and audiences share in the suffering. It’s excessive, especially when an air of manipulation seeps into the piece, with the last act losing direction as Haneke figures out how to prolong the inevitable. However, this test of patience is rewarded with an oddly satisfying ending, handed a symbolic lift in Georges’s interactions with a wayward pigeon. In the end, “Amour” accomplishes what it sets out to do, exposing the true nature of marriage and its ultimate test of sacrifice. Haneke certainly knows how to provoke, but I wasn’t prepared for his ability to simply understand. It’s an agreeable change of pace, even for a film of unimaginable sorrow.

Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, William Shimell
Director: Michael Haneke

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