Love isn’t simple. It throws things at you that you never would expect and at any time, that blissful existence you have with a significant other could change dramatically. That’s the idea behind Michael Haneke’s new film, Amour, which follows an old married couple who live a simple life until the wife, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), has a stroke and finds herself paralyzed down her right side, unable to perform the simplest of tasks, which are left up to her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). This isn’t a story about aging gracefully or unrequited love that movies so often romanticize. This is about a downward spiral that many of us will inevitably face. If nothing else, Amour faces old age and the struggles that accompany it head on and although it isn’t perfect, it’s a nice change of pace.
Upon meeting Anne and Georges, you immediately love them because you see how much they love each other, even after many decades of marriage. With a world that has commercialized love to the point of cynicism, it’s refreshing to see a couple with feelings for each other that haven’t been manufactured or manipulated by those who treat it like a business. After Anne has her stroke, your appreciation for them, particularly her husband, become even stronger. Georges has to help her with everything, from standing up to getting in bed to going to the bathroom. That beautiful, lively woman he fell in love with all those years ago is now in constant need of care and, despite the hardship he shows, he doesn’t really complain. Even when she starts wetting the bed, unable to control herself, he assures her it’s okay and sets about changing the sheets.
As the movie goes on, it becomes increasingly heartbreaking watching this woman struggle to do the simplest of things while her husband does all he can to make her comfortable. She eventually becomes depressed and finds herself in constant pain, forced to face her own mortality, realizing that this is the beginning of the end. One can only imagine how frightening such a realization must be. This is a thematically tough movie to watch and the dedicated performances by both of the stars are brave and nuanced.
Where Amour falters is in its final moments. Georges starts to become more scared and less caring, even going so far as to smack Anne as she lays defenseless and paralyzed in bed. To finally reach an emotional breaking point when so much burden is suddenly thrust upon you without warning is understandable, but to do what he did and will do before the credits begin to roll is not. Some will argue his final action is done out of love, not selfishness, wanting only his wife to be at peace, but it never comes off that way. The simple drama about the hardships of love at the end of life flies wildly off the rails into something few will expect, its entire thematic focus shifting to something vastly different and darker. As that simple drama, it works magically. As what it eventually becomes, it hardly works at all.
Nevertheless, this is an assured movie that is very well made, even if its narrative proves itself unable to complement the craft. Haneke directs the movie with a keen eye, in a way that is simple, but not simplistic. His approach is reserved, usually doing nothing more than placing the camera in one spot and keeping it still. In this way, he lets the dialogue and story flow naturally, without the unnecessary cutting back and forth most movies see as a necessity. But in the end, Amour is more a movie to appreciate than to like, mainly due to the ill-advised final sequence of events, which takes much of the goodwill created for Georges and throws it out the window. Because of its flawless acting and steady camerawork, Amour is still worth seeing, but that ending plays sourly, completely changing the context of its title to something unwelcome and unnecessary. What a disappointment.
Amour receives 3/5