Matter of Love and Death; Michael Haneke's Study of a Devoted Parisian Couple Dealing with the Wife's Descent into Dementia Is Deliberately Difficult to Watch. but It's Also a Masterpiece

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Matter of Love and Death; Michael Haneke's Study of a Devoted Parisian Couple Dealing with the Wife's Descent into Dementia Is Deliberately Difficult to Watch. but It's Also a Masterpiece


Byline: David Sexton

film of the week AMOUR Cert 12A, 127 mins FIREMEN are breaking in to a Parisian apartment. There's a bad smell. A door has been sealed with tape. On the bed an old woman lies dead and shrivelled, carefully arranged, surrounded with flowers.

This is the opening sequence of Amour and it tells you exactly where the film is going. There's no escape on offer. We see the world outside this apartment only briefly, in the next sequence.

We're at the beginning of a piano recital at the Theatre Champs-Elysees. But we see only a static view from backstage of the audience as the lights go down and the concert begins. There in the middle distance are Georges and Anne, retired music teachers in their eighties, among the listeners beginning to move a little to the music. In a rare grace note, the music accompanies the elderly pair home on the bus. They enter the apartment discussing the performance. "Did I mention you looked very pretty tonight?" says Georges.

This is all we ever see of their prior life together, although we can infer a great deal from the high culture visible everywhere in their apartment. The next morning at breakfast Anne suffers some kind of seizure, perhaps a stroke, blanking out completely, to Georges' consternation. We next see Anne returning from hospital in a wheelchair, an operation on an obstructed carotid artery having failed. She is partially paralysed. Georges helps her out of the chair in what looks like an embrace but is actually necessary physical support. Anne resolutely makes Georges promise never to take her back to hospital.

From here, Anne's disintegration proceeds ineluctably. She becomes incontinent, she has another stroke, her speech, previously elegant, goes. She can say only "it hurts, it hurts" (mal!, mal!) over and over again. Georges nurses her dauntlessly, indefatigably.

He sings to her "Sur le pont d'Avignon, on y danse, on y danse" and she tries brokenly to join in, perhaps their last music together.

Georges is Jean-Louis Trintignant, 81, who first starred in And God Created Woman with Brigitte Bardot in 1956. Anne is Emmanuelle Riva, 85, who first starred in Hiroshima Mon Amour in 1959. These are absolutely great and brave performances, both of them, rendered so much the more truthful and poignant by our knowledge of what these actors looked like in their heyday (see a captivating interview with Emmanuelle Riva in Cannes in 1959 on YouTube). They are authentic, in fact. Both Anne and Georges have great charm, composure and cultivation -- and it avails them nothing in this calvary. …

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