Amour screened as the opening film of the 2012 Irish Film Institute’s French Film Festival. Read our preview of the festival here and visit the official site at ifi.ie/FrenchFest for screening and ticketing info.
Austrian director Michael Haneke’s latest film Amour tells the story of Anne and Georges (character name staples in his work being used in Caché and Funny Games amongst others), a couple of retired music teachers living comfortably in their Paris apartment. Their married life change irrevocably when she suffers a stroke and he takes on the role of carer.
The narrative structure is relatively simple for a Haneke film as we’re taken on a straight-forward journey from happily-married retired life into the sad loneliness that comes from losing your life-long companion – a heart-breaking proposition regardless of whether that loss is a physical or emotional one.
Amour’s number one asset are undoubtedly the performances by its leads, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Both hold legendary status amongst French cinema aficionados but have understandably slowed down as they’re both now in their 80s. Our introduction to them sees them attending a recital of one of Anne’s former students and what’s so striking is just how believable they are as a doting (and interdependent ) couple who still get a kick out of a date night. Haneke has been magnanimous in his support and praise for the pair and you imagine the production on a small apartment set based on Haneke’s parents’ home was incredibly rewarding for the trio.
While Trintignant performs like a resilient old pillar trying to hold everything together as all crumbles around him, it is the work of Emmanuelle Riva that is likely to get everyone talking – including members of the Academy if speculation is to be believed. The 85-year-old leaves nothing at the door in portraying a stroke victim who slowly loses all independence and dignity. Haneke is a fan of lingering, static shots but no matter what else is in frame your attention is almost always drawn straight to Riva’s eyes. It’s a brave and powerful performance that avoids asking for pity which will live long in the memory.
With the exception of the early trip to the concert hall (see how long it takes you to spot Anne and Georges in the crowd of hundreds, then try and take your eyes off them), the film takes place entirely in their smart, salubrious Parisian apartment as it slowly evolves from their home into a form of prison for Anne. This close-quartered nature of the story means that Haneke’s screenplay could easily be adapted into a stage play though we would lose out on the stellar work of Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji. It should be added that the film’s conclusion feels wonderfully cyclical and I would have been more than happy to just have things loop right back to two hours beforehand, not something you can say about many films released this year.
It’s become cliché to say a film is universal, and while the whole subtitles and “film about dying” theme are likely to prevent true cross-over success, I still think Amour could do very good business over the winter, especially with the addition of those little Cannes Palme d’Or golden laurels on the poster. It really deserves to be seen by as many people as possible and is likely to have most resonance with anyone who has ever faced first-hand the challenges of friends, parents or grandparents clinging on to their independence as they approach the inevitable.
France, Germany, Austria / Directed By: Michael Haneke / Written By: Michael Haneke / Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert / 126min / Drama / Release: 16 November 2012 (UK/Ireland)