‘Amour’ deals with elderly couple Georges and Anne, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emannuel Riva respectively, as they both deal with the anguish incurred when Anne suddenly suffers a stroke. It is the latest French language film from Austrian auteur Michael Haneke (‘The White Ribbon’, ‘Funny Games’, ‘Hidden’) and although a lot of thought has gone into each scene and line of dialogue, and the film is both thought provoking and well acted, and indeed successful at showing what the impact of a serious stroke can be, The Red Dragon found it nevertheless to be suffering from a certain design flaw. If you are familiar with Haneke’s work, then you can tell not only what will happen in the end by the first ten – fifteen minutes of the film, but also the manner in which it will develop. Through this lens it takes on the guise of an artificial construct, an example of what The Red Dragon likes to call dehumanised cinema, where the script is written to a sort of signature template, no matter how involved, and the characters have little to no, or in this case inverted and anaesthetised, positive human connection, and instead function as cogs in a large artistic wheel. In effect, we watch a play of smoke and mirrors, rather than one full of human characters.
It is a subtle distinction in this case, so much so I decided to watch it twice, and whilst I found it difficult to change my initial reaction to the piece, I certainly came to appreciate its attention to detail a lot more. The film opens with the discovery of the body of Anne, and with regards to her husband we are presented with a duality as to his character, given in uncertain but equal measure until a very clear distinction is arrived at and quickly followed by a trademark Haneke flourish. Therein, however, it is trying to be too clever for its own good, with a lot of the story and direction designed to keep us guessing rather than invest in the two octogenarians as people, and the flourish is vile in its predictability and austere anti-reason character skewering. Haneke also fits in a bit of art house indulgence in the form of a pigeon that mysteriously flies in through an open window twice, and each time proceeds to devour the food crumbs that have very obviously been put down to keep it there long enough for the shot.
Riva is up for Oscar glory thanks to her performance in this, which is merited, and she is the oldest actress to receive the honour, especially nice since the ceremony will be taking place on her birthday (she will be turning 86). It’s one of three high profile French films this year to focus on serious physical impairments, the others being ‘Rust and Bone’ and ‘Untouchable’, the latter of which is by far the most rewarding and deserving of the three. Similarly, the American film ‘The Sessions’ fits into that category, also an award contender and a bit more positive in its outlook, but with something of a forced sense of comedy. ‘Amour’ is also nominated for best film, director, and original screenplay at Sunday’s Academy Awards, and although it is a film I wanted to like more than I did, there remains a certain beauty to the performances, and a certain icy warmth in their relationship to the title.