When you came across a story about two elderly couple titled ‘Amour’, you would certainly know it was going to be heartbreaking. And no matter how prepared you feel before watching this film, you’ll end up more emotionally drenched than you think you would.
Haneke’s latest follows Georges and Anne, a couple in their 80s who have been together—and in love—for decades. Even in their old age, you can still see that they are nothing short of soulmates, enjoying each other’s company comfortably in their beautiful Parisian apartment, surrounded by books, paintings and music. Both are musicians, and we know that Anne used to be a music teacher. One of her former students is now a big shot pianist, and in the beginning of the film the couple goes to see his concert. During that opening scene, we are never shown the stage itself, rather the camera focuses on the audience itself, forcing us to look around, seek our main characters.
After the concert, they go home to find that their apartment has just been burgled. The culprit used a screwdriver to break the lock, “not a professional”, Georges says nonchalantly. Anne is terrified with the idea of a stranger infiltrating their space but George stays calm and says that he’ll have the lock changed the next day. He then smiles and says to his wife how beautiful she looks that night.
The intruder seems to signal what’s to come after that. Unwelcome, an illness strikes Anne without warning. The two of them are having breakfast as usual, when Anne freezes all of a sudden. She stares blankly and doesn’t respond to anything Georges says. Confused, he tries to dab a damp cloth to Anne’s face and neck. She still doesn’t move. He then goes to his room, dresses, about to get help when suddenly she ‘comes back’. Anne is clueless about what just happened a few seconds before, prompting Georges to be angry, thinking that it’s some prank that Anne plays on him. But he probably knows that it isn’t.
Everything comes spiraling down after that. Anne undergoes surgery and she’s then half paralyzed. Stuck in a wheelchair and not able to tend for herself anymore, Georges unrelentingly takes care of her. With the help of a nurse who comes three times a week and a landlord who does their grocery, Georges spends all his time caring for his ill wife. But Anne doesn’t want to go on. She knows her husband is trying to help her, but she doesn’t want it.
Apart from our main couple, their only daughter sometimes comes into the frame. Eva, who is also a musician, begins showing up more often ever since her mother got ill. But the fight against Anne’s illness is a private one. It has always been Georges and Anne, just the two of them, and Eva’s visits are not actually that much welcome. “Your concern is of no use to me,” Georges once says to his daughter.
Jean-Louis Trintignant, who will turn 82 in two weeks, has actually retired from films for a few years, deciding to focus on theatre instead. Written with Trintignant in mind, Haneke insisted on having him cast in the role, and eventually talked him into it. The part of Anne, however, required many auditions and screen tests and Haneke found his heroine in Emmanuelle Riva, who looks beautiful at 85 years old. Watching these two actors show their artful craft on screen really feels like a privilege. Most scenes are taken from one angle, with a still camera, and they can go on for minutes and minutes, engaging us. Trintignant’s Georges’ devotion for his wife is so pure and never in doubt, while we literally see Riva’s Anne crumbling, succumbing to her illness that her face is barely recognizable in the end. We see the life comes out slowly from her eyes, we feel our hearts break into pieces as their dance comes to an end.
Throughout the screening, the audience was so still you can hear your own breathing. Some scenes drew gasps, some tears, and everyone was definitely drained when the film ended. Amour embraces mortality with warmth, gravity, genuineness and humane brutality. It embraces love, it puts love to a test. It makes you wonder about your own capacity to love another. And one thing for sure, this film is something that will be remembered for a long, long time.
Amour was screened at Europe on Screen 2012, Jakarta.