Friday, February 1, 2013
Amour is the subject of Austrian writer/director Michael Haneke’s latest film. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines amour as “a usually illicit love affair.” Indeed this best describes how the movies, more often than not, define the term. For Haneke, however, the word means something deeper and richer. Its Anglo-French origin amor, according to Webster’s, means “love, affection,” which comes from the Latin root amare, meaning, simply, “to love.” That, finally, is Haneke’s true subject – what it means to love, and all that that entails. Retired music teachers Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both in their 80s) are well into the autumn years together and mostly self-sufficient. They return from a concert of Anne’s former pupil to find that a would-be thief has tampered with the lock to their apartment. Disconcerted, they retire for the evening. The next morning, as they enjoy a breakfast prepared by Anne, she goes silent and unresponsive. Before Georges can get assistance she returns from her reverie without any recollection of it. Sometime later Georges informs daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) that her mother has an obstruction of the carotid artery, which surgery has failed to remove. Anne returns from hospital in a wheelchair, now unable to move without assistance, and demands Georges promise that he never send her back, and he agrees. Anne quickly deteriorates. Paralysis takes her right side, speech becomes more difficult and her memory less reliable. Completely dependent on Georges and the part-time nurse he hires, Anne becomes increasingly frustrated by her body’s decline. Georges, meanwhile, hides irritation and grief behind a stalwart mask, helpless in the face of the inevitable. Time is the thief that has invaded their life, and it is more ruthless than any human intruder. Haneke observes the indignity of aging with compassion and brutal honesty, and Trintignant and Riva give fearless performances, tender yet unsentimental. With subtle looks and gestures they bring the long history of Anne and Georges to life, even as that history draws to its heartbreaking close.