Po festiwalu
Gazeta Festiwalowa "Na Horyzoncie", nr 2
20 lipca 2012
English feature

Michael Haneke's latest film may be small, but it is a major work by the Austrian director, who was awarded his second Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

'Amour' focuses on an elderly Parisian couple, Georges and Anne, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. It opens with police breaking into their apartment and discovering Anne's body, lying fully clothed on her bed, surrounded by decaying flowers. The film then moves back in time to a concert performance, attended by the couple, followed by the first indication of Anne's deteriorating health and Georges' understandably concerned reaction. An off-screen diagnosis confirms the worst. Anne is dying.

'Amour' is arguably Haneke's most intimate film. It is also his most emotionally engaging, though thankfully bereft of the lachrymosity a lesser director would bring to such a sensitive subject. However, like the director's previous work, it remains concerned with the way society behaves. This couple, whom it has judged to have lived their lives, have become invisible to it. The apartment is both their haven and their prison. The outside world, which we never see, is no longer for them.

This disengagement with society at large, following the onset of Anne's illness, recalls the estrangement of the family in Haneke's first feature 'The Seventh Continent' (1989). But the style of the two films couldn't be more different. Haneke's debut is an emotionally detached drama whose distance only accentuates the horror we face. This approach continued over the next decade, particularly in the series of film that excoriated our fascination with violence, Benny's Video (1992) and 'Funny Games' (1997). More recent films, such as 'Code Unknown' (2000), 'Caché' (2005) and 'The White Ribbon' (2009) saw the director's intellectual engagement with his material accompanied by a stronger emotional attachment. However, his latest work is arguably his most significant shift as a filmmaker. 'Amour' draws us into the couple's world, witnessing at close hand the intimacy of their daily life.

Such an uncompromising approach to dying is rare in cinema. Rúnar Rúnarsson's 'Volcano', which screened at this festival last year, bravely grappled with similar material, whilst Maurice Pialat's raw 'The Mouth Agape' (1974) detailed the ugliness of familial strife that unfolds around the bed of a woman whose body is being consumed by cancer. 'Amour' echoes the concerns Pialat expressed in his film. Georges is torn between love and the dignity of a life worth living.

What would we do for love? Are there limits to maintaining the dignity of those we most care about? In the first volume of his controversial memoir-as-novel 'A Death in the Family', Karl Ove Knausgaard writes that western society is littered with images of death as entertainment, but cannot bear to deal with the process of death in reality. Mortuaries are located in basements, bodies are removed from sight moments after life has left them, and the actual process of dying mostly unfolds out of view. 'Amour' faces death with eyes wide open and never once flinches or looks away.

The Ties that Bind

Ian Haydn Smith

Editor, International Film Guide

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