Movie Information

The Story: A husband tries to cope with his wife's terminal illness. The Lowdown: Highly-acclaimed in most quarters, this slow, humorless essay in human misery is not going to be to everyone's taste and will appeal mostly to those already sold on the director's style.
Genre: Drama
Director: Michael Haneke (Cache)
Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shinnell
Rated: PG-13

I have given Michael Haneke’s Oscar-nominated Amour a grudging, noncommittal three stars for the simple fact that I cannot actually say it is a bad movie. It is technically proficient — within the range required by Haneke’s (let’s say) unadorned, dispassionate style. It is certainly well-acted. It presents its story clearly and coherently. It is perfectly in keeping with Haneke’s established glacial aesthetic and totally unsentimental worldview. It is also slow and deeply unpleasant — meaning that it ranks very high indeed as a prime example of le cinema de médecine mauvais, and is therefore important and good for you. I say it’s épinards and I say to hell with it. There, I’ve said it. And I’m glad — glad, do you hear me? If, from all this, you have gleaned the idea that I disliked Mr. Haneke’s latest outburst of profundity, you would be correct. This, however, is by no means meant to disuade anyone from seeing Amour. No, this is is a film that people should see and judge for themselves. Haneke, after all, has his adherents. While I find his films off-putting, slow, humorless and lacking any sense of humanity, others obviously disagree,

Strangely, this particular film is supposed to be something of a departure — a kinder, gentler Haneke, if you will. The idea was that this examination of the last days of an upscale octogenarian couple had somehow humanized the filmmaker. Personally, I saw no evidence of this — and that was true right from the start with its largely pointless preamble involving a rescue team breaking into their apartment after the fact. I might buy the idea Haneke wants the viewer to know this is going to end badly from the onset. (Since it was Haneke, I had assumed that sight unseen.) Does that mean that we needed to see the rescue workers cover their faces from the smell of a decomposing corpse? Probably not, though I’m sure the rationale is realism. However, it’s part and parcel of the more-clinical-than-human tone that pervades the film, which refers back to what led to this grim opening.

From that opening, the film jumps back in time to introduce us to Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), a pair of haute bourgeoisie retired music teachers. (Given Haneke’s history, it’s hard not to assume that his lack of evident compassion stems from their place on the social ladder.) They’re out for an evening watching one of Anne’s former pupils play. They seem quite comfortable in their world, but when they get home they find someone has tried to jimmy the lock to their apartment. What they don’t know, suggests Haneke, is their fears are misplaced since the dangers facing them are in themselves. (Haneke’s other dose of symbolism — involving a pigeon that gets into the apartment — is similarly heavy-handed.) The next morning, we see the first signs of the condition that will claim Anne. The progression is dealt with quickly since Haneke’s interest lies in having us watch the couple at home as things go from bad to worse on the road to the inevitability established in the film’s opening — with, of course, the expected Haneke moment of shock before we get there.

How you respond to this is going to depend entirely on whether you find Haneke’s unsentimental detachment a dose of bold realism or the nihilistic rumblings of a filmmaker enamoured of misery for its own sake. My take leans toward the latter, and my feeling is that any trace of humanity in the film comes from the performances of the two leads — an accomplishment all the more impressive given the way they’re virtual prisoners of Haneke’s nailed-down formalism. Ironically, this formal approach proves Haneke’s own undoing when he tries to lead us down the garden path with a dream sequence, which is so unlike the rest of the film that we immediately know something is up. So, does it add up to a brilliant piece of cinema? Or is it merely more Haneke nihilism in different clothing? You decide. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language.

Starts Friday at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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11 thoughts on “Amour

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    No, this is is a film that people should see and judge for themselves.

    I’m happy to remain ignorant.

  2. Joanie

    When will this movie be shown in Asheville? Fine Arts canceled its opening scheduled for this week.

  3. Ken Hanke

    It’s playing right now at The Carolina.

    Amour (PG-13)
    11:00, 1:45, 4:30, 7:20, 10:10

  4. Xanadon't

    So, does it add up to brilliant piece of cinema? Or is it merely more Haneke nihilism in different clothing? You decide.

    B. The answer is definitely B.

  5. Xanadon't

    No, simply fessing up to having seen the damn thing for myself while giving it as little additional thought as possible.

  6. Ken Hanke

    Most of the people I know who’ve already concluded they don’t like Haneke took the easy out and didn’t see it. I obviously did see it.

  7. RittenhouseSquare

    I have been a fan of Mr. Haneke since I first saw “La Pianiste” (aka. The Piano Teacher) back in 2001 after it won several awards at Cannes. I’ve also seen “Cache”, “Code Inconnu”, “Benny’s Video” and “The White Ribbon”. All of the aforementioned dealt with a certain degree of human cruelty and the consequences on fellow humans as a result. “Amour” is different in that it takes us into the seemingly cruelty of life itself but out of such cruelty comes the ultimate love. One cannot watch this movie without recalling that important passage from all (legitimate) marriage vows: “for better or for worse”. Is it a movie one will leave feeling good about? No, of course not but come on, how many more movies about Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock types falling for and ultimately getting prince charming do we need? Been there, done that, its stale and tired. The devotion and care Georges shows Anne during her decline – in spite of his rapid aging and feebleness – IS the ultimate act of love. SPOILER ALERT… if you haven’t seen the movie and want to STOP NOW, SEE IT AND COME BACK… STILL THERE? YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. On the IMDB site, there is a lively back and forth about what happened to Georges and Mr. Haneke always leaves a big mystery for his audience to come to their own conclusion. For me, Georges died in his sleep after writing the note about the pigeon. After he writes that letter, we see him lying on a small bed in a room we have never seen up until now. He’s lying like Anne’s corpse was in the opening scene – on his back with his hands crossed – until he is awakened by Anne washing the dishes. At the beginning of the film, the police are only shown in the rooms of the apartment we saw during the movie until the aforementioned scene: not the room where Georges was sleeping. Think about it: in the opening scene, the concierge and his wife mention that no one has seen them for awhile and so if Georges had literally left the apartment in his near cripple state, how far could he have made it? I think the way he and Anne left together like an old married couple (i.e. she nagged him about leaving without a coat) was perfect. “Amour” may very well be Mr. Haneke’s best film to date. It absolutely deserves the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress Awards this coming Sunday.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I’ll stick to his Twitter feed.

    I guarantee you it’s more fun.

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