Review - Amour


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Review - Amour
Michael Haneke goes human and humane for his latest
Amour (2012)
Michael Haneke
Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva
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The realities of aging in a marriage are dealt as a husband tries to deal with the new found infirmity of his wife.

Michael Haneke – the movie making trickster behind films like Funny Games and The White Ribbon takes a sideways step from toying with his audience for an altogether more grounded and emotional experience.

Amour is an intimate portrait of a long married couple, lingering in its opening scenes on their comfort with each other and their apparent vitality as they enter their ninth decade. Former music teachers, the two attend performances, have an active social life and remain fiercely independent – a refreshingly vital portrayal of the older generation on screen.

When Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) experiences a stroke, medical treatment is sought but on her return she demands of her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) that she never be forced to enter care again. And so begins a war of attrition against time, as the elderly Georges battles the inevitable and becomes a bystander in the slow expiration of the love of his life.

Amour(which one the Palme D'or at Cannes this year)is not easy viewing, especially for those who are familiar with these latter stages in life, but it isn’t supposed to be. Haneke doesn’t intend to give us a romanticised view of the process, trapping his audience in the apartment and never shying away from the realities of 24 hour care – from the paraphernalia of pills pilled high in every corner to the adult diapers and heartbreaking meanderings of mental decay.

The film certainly has its bleak moments but remains watchable thanks to a pair of astoundingly committed performances. Both Trintignant and Riva are faced with different challenges – she gets the opportunity to lean on subtle makeup and erratic behaviour for the more obviously impressive acting honours but his stoicism has its own kind of draw. In truth, it would be churlish to suggest one out-acts the other, the effect of the piece is completely down to the interaction between the two and the emotional connection they get across is often staggering.

With few other performers on screen (apart from an effective Isabelle Huppert) and a necessary lack of conventional dialogue, Amour lingers in the silences – in long takes which soak up the palpable frustration in both characters, particularly as the previously vivacious Anne struggles to articulate, to express the fact that she’s still alive inside her crippling body. Tears will be shed, and rightly so.

But this remains a Haneke film, and he can’t quite restrain himself from being a little tricksy. The rather cold and dispassionate shooting style actually adds to the tone of the piece but some moments are presented more obliquely that absolutely necessary. The last half hour most clearly bears his stamp, taking things in a more immediate direction and stretching out the final scenes in a bid to add an air of mystery to proceedings.

Still, Amour is an incredibly moving work – one which manages to side-step melodrama and get across the terrible reality of old age without languishing in showy scenes of nursing home squalor. It’s the performances which give it energy and real life, even when things are at their most dire and the inevitable conclusion approaches. In the end, it’s a story about the endurance of human affection – far beyond the insignificant problems which are a feature of everyday life.

9 Stars: Recommended
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