Republished in Arthur, Monday, November 25th, Print and Online. http://trentarthur.ca/michael-hanekes-oscar-winning-picture-amour-at-market-hall/
The story begins with Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) attending a concert of real-life pianist Alexandre Tharaud, whom we later discover in the fictional world, is a former student of Anne’s. The concert is not of great interest; however, the lovely long shot of Trintignant and Riva laughing naturally on a bus ride back to a spacious and bourgeois Parisian apartment is. The fictional couple portrayed has been together for some time and are very much in love, so we guess from the title and apparent at ease with one another.
At 5 minutes into the feature we enter the fictional characters’ home and remain there for the duration.
After Anne’s abrupt awakening in the middle of the night, the morning starts a long and painful journey toward her life’s end. This day is initially like any other. The dialogue between husband and wife at table illustrates Martin Heidegger’s description of idle talk. Georges speaks about fixing their broken lock, friends waiting for plumbers, and perhaps going to purchase Alexandre’s CD later on. When Anne becomes unresponsive orally and physically, through Haneke’s brilliant use of the shot-reverse shot of Georges’ panicked and concerned gaze and Anne’s completely blank stare, it becomes evident something is amiss. She must be examined by their doctor, Bertier, Georges insists. The scene closes with Anne shakily pouring her tea, missing her cup and filling the saucer.
What follows is a series of static shots of the empty rooms in the apartment, beautifully lit by the city night, and radiating a ghostly glow. These serve two purposes, or three, if we consider their reapplication later in the film in the form of landscape paintings. The first is to establish the spaces which both characters and audience will occupy for the following hour and 45 minutes; second, without a human presence time has no significance and thus, in the next sequence of an exchange between Georges and his daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), we have a sense of temporal ellipsis, a recurring theme. We are not sure how many days or weeks later the drama returns after Anne has been taken to the doctor. Instead we are introduced to a selfish Eva who we presume is visiting father and mother after the latter’s unsuccessful carotid artery surgery. But she chatters on and on about husband Geoff and his infidelities and Haneke shoots at a distance behind Georges’ armchair, capturing the front of Eva in full profile, indicating her self-importance.
When their boring conversation concludes a cut takes us to two men installing a medical bed in the couple’s bedroom. Anne’s technologized bed, capable of adjusting to her needs, spills over the frame to highlight its importance as her body will slowly decay atop it. The still shots of seven lush and green landscape paintings three-quarters through the film, mimicking the earlier still shots of the isolated apartment, is a depressing reflection on Anne’s immobility, her body rooted to that mattress and therefore never again able to see, hear, smell, and touch such picturesque environments.
We know in some capacity what is going to happen next: the story will depict Anne’s indefinite suffering and looming death as well as Georges’ kindnesses, anxieties, fatigue, and anger while caring for her.
But in this suffering we find the other person as such. “[I]t is out of that other time, the time of his or her dying,” Alphonso Lingis writes, “that the other addresses me.” One may die alone, but the touch of consolation is acknowledgment, a contact which forces the dying person out of herself and to a recognition that her suffering is not in vain. Suffering and dying then are tied to an imperative to accompany a person in their final moments of life, accompaniment indicating to the dying person that their projects will be carried forward after they have gone. This we see in long and detailed scenes in Amour.
A question Eva poses to Georges three-quarters into the film regarding her mother’s rapidly deteriorating health – “What’s going to happen now?”, a selfish and demanding question that is simultaneously viewers’ concern as well – becomes expressive of the plot until that point as well as hinting at reflexivity in Georges answer: “The nurse comes three times a week. Every two weeks Dr. Bertier and the hairdresser come. That’s what you wanted to know? No? Things will go on as they have done up until now. They’ll go from bad to worse. Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.”
The reflexive exchange between father and daughter – at perhaps the moment when we are ourselves fatigued, bored, or overwhelmed by the barrage of horrible images of a dying woman who we wish would perish peacefully – reminds us that depicting slow death is the film’s essence. Georges again: “What should be going on [with Anne’s rapidly deteriorating condition/with the narrative of the film]? … Nothing’s going on. I want to spare us all a pointless drama”; images of decay, loss of bodily functions, self and identity, “Nothing of any of that is worth showing.” We would not see this most films; Haneke shows us nevertheless. We witness Anne’s descent into death, accomplished by the long take, a slowing down of image, and minimal editing so as “to (re)attach the mind [of the spectator] to the shot, to the work of looking – noticing, taking in – and reflecting,” says Vicky LeBeau.
The message of the film is clear. Love is the ability to endure “catastrophic existence”, says Alain Badiou. Amour mimics Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (1961), Badiou’s cherished example of the obstinacy of love and its characteristics of fidelity and commitment which can persevere through “the disastrous state of [the old couple’s] bodies.” The mistake of poorly reflecting on the meaning of Amour and its title derives from a misunderstanding of love as a singular moment or expression. Love is rather a continued and prolonged expression, exemplified by Georges and Anne as they deteriorate, falter, lose consciousness and patience, and yet remain together despite Eva’s suggestion that her father should not handle the burden alone. Love is a commitment to stay with and in love, until the very end, and even beyond.