Michael Haneke’s “Amour”: Tough and Tender
Published on December 19th, 2012 | by John Oursler0
“Amour” opens Friday, December 21 at Film Forum.
Running time: 127 minutes; Rated PG-13; in French w/English subtitles.
Michael Haneke is often dismissed as a provocateur—a label that does, to an extent, reflect his larger aims. His work maintains a pedagogical tilt that many find pedantic, bordering on condescending.
But he’s not trying to teach us a lesson; rather, he’s forcing us to probe deeper into something we already have inside of ourselves, but may not be aware of. This discursiveness requires an immense faith in the audience, and Haneke, like many critic-cum-directors, possesses a dexterous understanding of filmic language and its ability to illuminate. In “Amour,” his latest, his style is uncompromising and its purpose is clear: He’s created his best work.
The film opens at a refined concert of classical music; afterwards, we follow aging married couple Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) back to their expansive Parisian flat, where they retire for the night. The next morning, Anne suffers a stroke; while it paralyzes the right side of her body, her mind stays efficient and sharp.
Thereafter, Haneke balances Anne’s unsettling, heartbreaking decline with Georges’s tirelessly compassionate response to it. Here, style serves content: The lengthy takes and minimal cross-cutting in “Amour” are not arbitrary, as Haneke utilizes these devices to portray the difficult moments that every elderly pair inevitably must face.
While familiarity with Haneke’s oeuvre is not a prerequisite for appreciating the film’s tenderness, it certainly helps. The conduits for Haneke’s ideas in “Amour” never seem quite as esoteric as those in “The White Ribbon” or “Funny Games” (both versions). Everyone knows a couple like Anne and Georges, and it helps that Trintignant and Riva (as well as Isabelle Huppert as their distant yet concerned daughter) deliver some of the most heart-wrenching performances in recent memory.
Haneke’s style remains austere and uncompromising, and one might momentarily question his motives. But such skepticism betrays a gross assumption about Haneke’s intentions and overlooks the nuances of “Amour.” Any debate surrounding the film’s objectives is a testament to Haneke’s ability to incite impassioned feelings in his audience. Trust his judgment; you will be rewarded.