director Michael Haneke
Last year’s Best Foriegn Film at the Oscars, Michael Haneke’s Amour, really took me a while to get around to seeing. I like Hanake’s films. I think he is one of the more interesting active directors in the world, but this one, the story of an octogenarian couple dealing with the declining health of one of them…well, that’s probably a hard sell just about anywhere.
I think Hanake is interesting not just because his films are interesting and that he selects such challenging material for his work but that what can be lost sometimes in looking at his films and dealing with the content or ideas in his films, it’s easy to forget that he’s quite the maestro. I think I noted in regarding Funny Games (1997) that he has the ability to manage a viewer’s attention like Alfred Hitchcock but overall, he’s not simply interested in leading a viewer through narrative, developing cinematic pleasure. He’s sort of the opposite, actively trying to develop cinematic discomfort.
I was thinking to myself at one point during Amour that it would have been interesting to see Haneke embrace genre, maybe doing a more straight up horror film (he did sort of do a science fiction film in 2003’s Time of the Wolf.) But then I realized that all of Haneke’s films are horror films in a way. The horrors are variant but are deeply ingrained throughout.
I suppose, given the title of the film, Amour, that the focus of the film can be the love between this man and wife, his dedication to caring for her, for doing her will (not forcing her to hospital or hospice), and even the inevitable euthanasia. It does end with a dream-like departure together and it’s at least in part a love story.
It’s also a horror story, for the woman undergoing the strokes, loss of her physical self-control, shame, embarrassment, for her husband who has to see her suffer through all of this and empathize, but for all of us to know that this is to come for our parents or grandparents, ourselves. This is the slow degradation of death, the body when it stops operating as it should, for us, for our loved ones, the greatest of indignities and suffering. We should all be so lucky to have someone to put us out of our misery.
Much has been made of the performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as the elderly couple. They are good. The film is good. It has an integrity to it and a beauty to it, but it’s also a slog of sorts. Putting yourself through that. And for all of the titular “love” evoked, it left me still detached and outside.
I didn’t love Amour.