By Reem Saleh
What does it mean to be in love, tied up for better or for worse? This question is the theme of Michael Haneke’s new film ‘Amour’, which is this year’s winner of Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’or and is a major contender for the Academy Awards nominations.
The universality of the film speaks to every human being, recalling memories of parents or grandparents at a stage of helplessness, which is where the real test of ‘love’ manifests itself. Georges and Anne are both in their eighties, a refined couple who are retired music teachers that spend their time in a routine of reading and discussing books, degustating music and listening to each other’s stories. One day Anne has an attack that leaves her partially paralyzed, after which her health starts to deteriorate gradually. Georges is fully aware that it is the beginning of an excruciating end, but he has made his wife a promise to never take her to the hospital again.
The film opens with the police breaking into the couple’s home, which is filled with the smell of death. In one room, an old woman’s body is laying on the bed surrounded with flowers—then on a black background appears the title ‘Amour’ (Love). This is the only fast-paced scene of the film; while the following is tailored to mirror the slow passage of old age and entrance into another world. Haneke’s masterpiece is set entirely in the apartment where the characters are isolated by choice and contentment.
Georges decides to take a fully active role in taking care of his lifetime partner without the assistance of any family members, as they wouldn’t understand the sensibility it takes to deal with a strong person now turned weak. Haneke’s prelude sets the foundations of a strong relationship; those long years spent together have been reflected with meticulous details that are sensed from the first minutes. At a later stage, Anne is not capable of walking on her own and needs to cope with the new situation. But this is only the beginning of an experience that sooner-or-later had to crawl into their lives.
The film is a continuous battle that requires tremendous strength in dealing with the inevitable decay of the body and mind, and the despair that arises in the moments of exhaustion, which are shadowed by the hope that this torture is going to end. Their drive is what bonds this old couple together—seen in the love and respect they carry for each other. This is why it becomes harder to see Anne becoming a fully dependent child-like person. The other perspective captures Anne’s frustration of leaving her husband alone and concern of becoming a heavy and insupportable burden.
The film is an in-depth and visceral experience with sublime performances by Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima mon amour) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (And God Created Women). It’s feeling the heavy-steps towards old age that will forever change the perspective of what we sometimes take for granted. It’s bringing to the foreground common procedures of life and death and act as a reminder of the absolute and true meaning of love. It’s an emotionally charged picture that’s going to be forever printed in the minds of the viewer. Yes it is easy to move people, but only a master can frame the process of death the way Haneke did. It’s a very simple narrative approach filled with the most comprehensive of details that raise questions about life and the world beyond.