Staff Review/ Amour

Cornerhouse LiveWire Young Film Critic James Martin reviews Amour

What introduction could this film possibly require? Any film enthusiast recognises the name of Haneke instantly, whatever their opinion of him. Horrible feelings accompanied me into the screening – would the film live up to the hype, could Haneke really better his recent works, Hidden and The White Ribbon? I soon realised that this was the wrong way to think about it. Haneke is renowned for his chilly, detached style and merciless lack of sentimentality in exploring the darker sides of human nature. Although his ruthless devotion to all things challenging and unsentimental is still evident in Amour, we must at least recognise that this represents some kind of turning point in Haneke’s oeuvre.

Lead roles Georges and Anne are played magnificently by Jean-Louis Trintignant (star of Bertolucci’s masterpiece, The Conformist) and Emmanuelle Riva (the female protagonist of Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour). Hand-picked by Haneke himself, these two bring a lifetime of experience to their roles; their performances are breathtaking. Riva in particular, whose character loses her independence and sense of dignity increasingly throughout the film, is magnificent – not afraid of baring all to the camera. Anne’s condition is not the ersatz tragedy, infused with humour and considerable taste, that Hollywood would have us believe; it is ugly, painful, degrading.

The claustrophobia of their lives, increasingly shut off from the rest of the world, is intense. Characters (including the couple’s own daughter, selfish on the surface but nursing deep hurts) will enter and temporarily penetrate the organic, defensive webbing that Georges and Anne now form for themselves. But theirs remains a holistic, private world that outsiders can only try to force their way into. There is a great piece of symbolism after Georges and Anne return from a concert to discover that someone has tried to break into their apartment. This couple, in the face of oncoming tragedy, hide within themselves and within this space, their own, where they have spent so many years and built their lives together.

This has to be the best film Haneke has ever made. Yes, it is gruelling but unlike his previous films there is warmth, tenderness and genuine humanity to be found here. We are greeted by two highly intelligent people, deeply in love, and we are challenged to watch the end of their relationship. Georges and Anne are not perfect – they are more than capable of frustration and anger. Having spent years building their life together, the wounds they can inflict on each other are agonising. This is part of the searing authenticity of the film; they in turn make the more tender moments even more special.

Amour is a film about the disappearance of a human being; of what one man does in the face of losing the woman he has loved his whole life, every day, little by little. It is a psychological drama, incorporating both philosophical elements and moments of exquisite, heartbreaking poetry. But above all it is a luminous love story – one that is genuine and recognisable, between two characters that we fully believe in and sympathise with. Georges and Anne have spent many long, happy years together, and now, slowly and sadly, their happiness must come to an end. Be warned though: Amour is an example of cinema at its most powerful and devastating. My advice: bring tissues.