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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey

DI­REC­TOR Michael Haneke has many things go­ing for him. But af­ter watch­ing Amour, which some con­sider his mas­ter­piece, it be­comes clear his key as­set is his re­spect for the au­di­ence.

You see it in his plots, which tend to un­fold slowly and with in­trigue and have you mus­ing long af­ter you’ve left the cin­ema. You see it in his oc­ca­sional flashes of vi­o­lence, which seem to want to shake the au­di­ence out of any com­pla­cency.

And you see it in his style, a still­ness that can be mis­taken for cold­ness but that I pre­fer to see as a strik­ing po­si­tion against much that is mod­ish in mod­ern cin­ema. He asks you to look at the frame, all of it, and process it.

Haneke doesn’t use tricks to push your fo­cus; he doesn’t ma­nip­u­late. He tells his viewer: here’s your scene, go look­ing.

No ex­am­ple is starker than the sec­ond scene in Amour, in which his cam­era looks back at an au­di­ence at a Paris theatre as it pre­pares for the open­ing notes of a pi­ano recital. Your eyes may be drawn to some­one, or they may not. It isn’t cru­cial to your un­der­stand­ing of the sub­se­quent film, yet it adds some­thing delightful if you make the con­nec­tion be­fore the tale of a cou­ple in their 80s un­folds.

There is also a still­ness to Haneke’s cam­era that can be un­nverv­ing, as in many shots in Cache (Hid­den). This gives his films time to breathe and his au­di­ence time to delve and con­sider. Stylis­ti­cally, it is a blessed con­trast to the ab­sur­dity of to­day’s om­nipresent hand-held cam­era ef­fect. Even the new Pixar an­i­mated short The Blue Um­brella, screen­ing be­fore Mon­sters Univer­sity, uses the vis­ual cliche. Why would you want an­i­mated un­steadi­ness?

Any­way, Haneke’s re­spect for his au­di­ence may have been stretched by Amour. It is a con­tem­pla­tive film about a cou­ple, Anne and Ge­orges (played with stun­ning grace by Em­manuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintig­nant). Con­tem­pla­tive be­cause the open­ing scene shows you how it will end and the prospect of some­thing maudlin is ob­vi­ous.

The for­mer mu­sic teach­ers and per­form­ers re­turn from a con­cert by one of Anne’s for­mer pupils, qui­etly rev­el­ling in the joy part of their life has brought to oth­ers. Later, over break­fast, Anne freezes, seem­ingly be­cause of a stroke, and their re­la­tion­ship be­gins its heart­break­ing fi­nal chap­ter.

Amour is not so much about death as the cel­e­bra­tion of life. For any­one who has had the mis­for­tune of see­ing some­one close to them de­cide their in­nings is up, Amour is par­tic­u­larly poignant. Haneke’s mas­ter­stroke is show­ing Anne and Ge­orges not give up on the rich life they shared. Amour won the Palme d’Or in Cannes last year and an Acad­emy Award this year, and is a nigh per­fect film whose only bum note was a sub­ti­tle that used the word ‘‘bur­glarised’’.

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