Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

When reactions to Michael Haneke’s Amour first started coming out of Cannes, there was a sigh of relief among those who find his other work too cold and detached. The genuinely tender depiction of an old couple facing the end of their lifelong love assured many that he was capable of making a movie that empathizes with and pleases his audience. “Thank goodness, he’s capable of making nice movies.”

Well, I’m not in that camp. Partly because I do not find his other works “cold” or “detached” in the slightest (the unflinching gaze of Caché, for instance, mirrors and emphasizes its characters’ mystification and paranoia), but mostly because I think the general unpleasantness of Michael Haneke is the whole point. He shows us things that we’d rather not see, or refuses to show us what we desperately want. His mastery of that quality is what makes him a seminal, world-class artist. Without it, the best Haneke can be is “just” an excellent dramatist.

And make no mistake, Amour is an excellent drama. Haneke’s famously unflinching gaze here proves that it’s not detached at all, but an intense form of engagement with the images. The film never looks away from the plight of Anne and Georges, as the intelligent and cultured Anne endures a stroke, a botched surgery paralyzing the right half of her body, then another, far more debilitating stroke. Georges, who cares for his deteriorating wife full-time after promising Anne that he will never take her back to the hospital, endures criticisms from his daughter, Eva.

What may separate this from Haneke’s other work is that he is uncritical of his characters, even sympathetic. When Eva lambasts her father for not involving and updating her in her mother’s affairs, we understand, and when Georges tells her he doesn’t have time to indulge her worrying, we understand. As we do when Anne, still in control of her mind and faculties, tells Georges she doesn’t want to go on. As we do when Georges refuses. As we do when he acquiesces.

The film only omits to show Anne’s more dramatic moments of medical failure, such as the surgery and second stroke. Haneke, as usual, refuses his audience any visceral release, a disciplined technique that works painfully well. Amour is more concerned with the life its characters endure than the events that get them there, and it is all the more melancholic for it.

As Georges endures the ugly end of the his soulmate, the title’s meaning comes into clarity. It is not ironic, as we may have suggested from such a bitter critic of the human condition as Haneke. His view of love is not unusual: it is characterized by an unwavering devotion that is savage and tender and merciful. What’s special is his willingness to show its real extent and consequences, and that it does not and cannot always end happily.

So, yes, it is “just” an excellent drama, but that’s in comparison to the watersheds of Caché and The White Ribbon. It is a simple film, but the power of its direct execution and the weight of its subject on the human condition are undeniable, and minor Haneke is still major cinema.


Post a Comment