Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintiguant, Isabelle Huppert
Genre: French Drama
I personally believe that art’s main duty, whatever medium through which it conveys its message, is to represent what is ineffable. Ineffable, something that cannot be projected with words and/or conventional logic. And one concept that’s ineffable yet pervasive in our lives is ‘love.’ The movie, “Amour” (which means ‘love’ in French) does exactly that: it conveys to its audience the contours, embodiment, essence, and transcendence of love.
In the opening scene, firefighters and neighbors break into an apartment seemingly vacant and soon cover their nose. When they open the living room door, they see a corpse of an old lady laid serenely on a bed sprinkled with the petals of flowers, her garment immaculate and her hands folded on her stomach. Her face is pellucid and pockmarked, yet we feel that she was loved until the end. We know we are given the ending of the movie when we see in the next scene that she is in an auditorium with her husband, both very old yet healthy and enjoying a piano concert.
So, we naturally expect to see the ‘love’ of this elderly couple in the last days of their lives. The wife suffers a stroke, and when they come back from hospital, she forced her husband to promise never to take her to the hospital ever again. Will the husband keep this promise? Her right side of the body becomes paralyzed, and the debilitation continues. It is through the actions, reactions, and inactions of the husband that we glimpse at this ineffable entity the title denotes. He helps her, yes, giving her a bath and changing diapers, but love is more than just helping someone. The husband tells his daughter, “We’ve always coped.” His words turn out to be true. They cope and will always do so. The husband is aware that there’s nothing much to do except to care for her himself and wait for the eventual end. He faces the helplessness and fragility of human spirit against the old age, yet there’s certain beauty to all his accepting. The wife soon loses the ability to speak, and she stutters, “It was long…and nice.” We know that she means their time together. There’s one final act committed by the husband, which seals our belief that the husband truly, dearly, and eternally, loves her.
Most scenes are shot with a camera unmoving and protracted, and we feel that we are observing rather than being treated with a narration. We observe the daily challenges of this elderly couple, yet their conversation and gestures, ever so subtle yet infused with love, gilds the film so that it shines, but the illumination will be felt by those who know how to immerse themselves in the experience of cinema. The film portrays objectively and lucidly the sadness and challenges of long lasting love, sadness mainly because we are mortals and we know the togetherness will end, but watching the film, we still yearn for such kind of long love because of its beauty. It’s a film that dares to name itself “Love” and succeeds admirably in conveying what “love” is.
This was my third watching of the film. Michael Haneke is a director respected by all other directors, and his insights and philosophies on cinema have been written by many scholars in countless articles. His films have the sense of deepness that other films lack, and although they require patience, it pays off greatly in the end and the movie “Amour” is no exception. I insist that this movie, which won many awards, is a required watching for all, in order to treat oneself to feel, through art, what ‘love’ is.