Amour tells the story of an old couple, Georges and Anne, as they deal with the physical and mental breakdown that affects the latter at the end of Anne’s life, and the emotional impact this has both on their relationship with each other and their daughter, Eva.
It’s hard to get a sense exactly what this film is like simply from watching the trailer or hearing it from another person. Even having viewed the film, it’s very difficult to convey precisely what the film is like.
“Amour” in French means love, and from the title alone it would not be unfair to expect it to be about exactly that, but in truth it’s far more complex than that. This is not to say that the love between the two lead characters is irrelevant, far from it. It’s what drives the film and makes Georges’ difficulty in caring for his ailing wife so powerful. Neither is it melodramatic; director Michael Haneke doesn’t try to make things overly sentimental.
Haneke’s style is distinct. He uses very long takes and no non-diegetic sounds or music, creating a very raw feeling, as if all the action is playing out in real time. It makes the audience member feel almost like a voyeur, glimpsing into something that they shouldn’t be watching.
Without doubt the strongest aspect of the film is the acting. The way in which the film is constructed feels as if it is just a showcase for the actors. There is no stylisation or complexly choreographed sequences, instead just actors doing what they should be (acting) all the way through.
Jean-Louis Trintignant excels as the elderly husband, frustrated by the idea of nurses coming in to take care of his beloved wife and adamantly against the idea of sending her to a nursing home as their daughter suggests.
Emmanuelle Riva’s degeneration into an almost childlike state is equally as heartbreaking. It causes you to question throughout how you would react in such a situation, how difficult you would find it to care for someone who is no longer the person they once were.
As great and effective as all the elements of this film are, it’s important to say that this is an incredibly tough watch. You’ll find yourself glued to the chair during the credits trying to process exactly what it is you’ve just seen. For days after the film will linger and leave you in a mildly depressed state.
Haneke won the Palme d’or at the Cannes film festival for his direction here, and is likely to win even more come award season, and rightly so.
But as technically effective and as emotionally engaging as it is, don’t go in expecting something light, or even something emotional in a similar style to The Notebook. It’s sentimental in a way that taps into the darkest parts of your mind. It’s probably best not to watch this unless you’re in a nice, comfortable place psychologically.