At the end of Amour, my friend Claire and I looked at each other – faces neutral, saying nothing. “Well, what did you think,” she asked. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was fairly mealy-mouthed because I couldn’t believe I disliked a movie everyone was raving about. Especially a movie about people my age struggling with the vicissitudes of aging, and especially a movie about Parisians who are always chic, elegant and enviable, even in difficult times. The crowd around us was silent as we gathered ourselves to leave. Were they so moved they couldn’t speak or were they like me, stunned by the things about this popular film that didn’t work?
By the time we got to the car, Claire and I couldn’t stop talking about what we felt writer/director Michael Haneke got wrong. Claire nailed it for me when she marveled that a movie that seemed so loveless was called Amour.
According to the promotional description, this movie is about married, retired music teachers in their eighties whose lives begin to unravel when the wife Anne, played admirably by Emmanuelle Riva, has her first stroke. Home from the hospital she makes her husband Georges promise that no matter what happens he won’t send her back to the hospital. Thus we are drawn into their tense, dreary trek toward death.
I was over them both the first time Anne instructs Georges on how to move her from her wheelchair to another chair. She directs him without tenderness and he pulls her up like a sack of potatoes. In the moment he draws her close, like the lover he once was, I couldn’t believe that he didn’t hold her for a comforting minute, showing something of what we’re to believe was once a vibrant sexual and emotional relationship. There are a few tender moments here and there but they seem more gratuitous than not and there aren’t enough to make you believe in their past.
Daughter Eva, played by the formerly divine Isabelle Huppert, who lives abroad with her philandering husband and nearly grown children, floats in and out of scenes as though she’s in search of a newspaper rather than checking on her dying mother and her struggling father. She is absent urgency but long on suggestions on what how her parents might manage an increasingly unmanageable situation. Ironically, she is the one who gives us what may be the missing piece about what’s wrong with this movie when she tells her father that she found it “reassuring” when she heard her parents making love when she was young. Was this all she knew, saw or heard about their intimacy? How sad that is.
I’m almost sorry I so vividly remember Jean-Louis Trintignant from the sensual and lovely – if smaltzy – A Man and A Woman because nothing of that man is here. Georges seems to act out of an obstinate, egotistical, self-righteous obligation rather than any sense of deep and abiding love for this cool, cerebral woman whose own vanishing mind and talent seem to be her true loves. Watching their lives get smaller and smaller it’s impossible not to wonder why he never takes her out into the sunshine when she’s still mobile and alert, and how it is possible that they seem not to have friends who come by so he can get out for awhile. Their unlovely, poorly lighted and ill-designed apartment is a perfect metaphor for lives I suspect were constricted long before she became ill.
Mr. Haneke does those of us who are aging a disservice in stripping any joy, humor and laughter from this somber tome. For those of us who have experience with loss, illness and death, we know that even in our most terrible times, there are moments of grace and lightness. And as if this isn’t enough, in a final blow to our senses, the film’s editing is harsh and graceless, leaving awkward transitions and overlong silences, inexplicable shots and unanswered questions. By the end of the film I was as relieved as Georges must have been that it was finally over. Fini.
Lyn May is WNN's webmama