★★★★ / ★★★★
The fire brigade breaks into a Parisian apartment out of neighbors’ concern since they have not seen the elderly couple, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), for several days. The neighbors have reason to feel that something is wrong because Georges has been taking care of Anne since her first stroke paralyzed the right side of her body. After the fire brigade get inside, there is an unpleasant smell in the air and soon enough we see a corpse of a woman on the bed.
Based on the screenplay and directed by Michael Haneke, “Amour” separates itself from becoming just another picture about how octogenarians spend the last few years of their lives by utilizing an unflinching look at the inevitability of how the elderly deteriorate physically, mentally, and spiritually. We may not want to see what is eventually to become of us as well as what is in store for those closest to us, but it makes the point that it is critical that we observe, empathize with the microcosm, and try to understand, not fear, the future.
The picture is comprised of the every day necessities and habits that Georges and Anne take part in. A viewer might ask questions like, “Why do we need to see them walk from one side of the room to another so slowly? What is the point of watching Georges trying to help Anne out of bed and onto a wheelchair?” I believe these questions are justified because the aforementioned scenes do in fact serve little to move the plot along. But the film is not about following a typical dramatic parabola. It is about a presentation of Anne’s declining health and how the couple deal with what remains in their lives.
It must be noted that “amour” means love. What is love but sticking with someone when things get really bad and ugly? One cannot help but feel moved when Georges rushes to his wife’s aid by pulling her underwear up when she finished using the bathroom. When Anne is found to have urinated in bed overnight, we can feel the shame that they experience. Anne begins to feel that she is nothing but a liability. Georges questions how long he will be able to provide care especially considering the fact the he is getting older as well. All of these complications occur in one apartment and it is impressive that not once does the situation feel forced or dramatized. For instance, there is no score to give us a clue on how to feel. The film shows its confidence by making it entirely up to us whether or not to care for the people on screen.
I admired that the writer-director takes the material to another level by touching upon the issue of a person having (or not having) the right to choose not to continue living. This is one of the defining moments of the film because a lot people are quick to support the assumption that everyone should die “the natural way” while equally swift and vicious in condemning the idea of euthanasia. At the same time, with the knowledge that the writer-director is not afraid to push envelope, I applaud Haneke for showing restraint. He does not make the issue controversial for the sake of controversy which shows his respect for this specific story being told.
“Amour” is clearly not meant to be enjoyed, but it does have a lot of value. If anything, it makes me wonder about some of the choices I will eventually have to make when my parents are on their final relay. I don’t have an answer right now, but I hope to feel ready when it is time to make them.