That’s what I call aus­ter­ity

No one can pre­pare us for the wretched­ness of mor­bid­ity – ex­cept, of course, Michael Han­neke. Tara Brady is left moved and shaken by the Aus­trian’s tough drama

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILMREVIEWS - TARA BRADY

AMOUR ★★★★★ Di­rected by Michael Haneke. Star­ring Jean-Louis Trintig­nant, Em­manuelle Riva, Is­abelle Hup­pert 12A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 127 min MICHAEL HANEKE makes it clear where we are headed – where we are all headed – from the open­ing shot of the least eva­sive, but most mov­ing, film of his ca­reer. Po­lice break into an el­e­gant Paris apart­ment to find an el­derly woman ly­ing dead upon her bed. It’s ar­guably one of Amour’s cheerier tableaux.

Haneke then skips chrono­log­i­cally back to the woman, Anne (Em­manuelle Riva), and her hus­band, Ge­orges (Jean-Louis Trintig­nant), both re­tired mu­sic teach­ers, at­tend­ing a concert given by a for­mer stu­dent. This is the only time the cam­era leaves the con­fines of their in­creas­ingly tomb-like res­i­dence. Not long af­ter, Anne suf­fers a stroke and drifts into ir­re­versible de­cline.

Oc­ca­sion­ally frus­trated, mostly un­flus­tered, Ge­orges sets about manag­ing the pain and con­fu­sion. An aw­ful wail­ing comes from the bed­room. Dig­nity proves hard to main­tain.

The in­ter-tex­tual games of Hid­den and the his­tor­i­cal sweep of The White Rib­bon are dusted aside as Haneke fo­cuses acutely on the grim re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that ro­man­tic love kicks up. Though the di­rec­tor touches on happy mo­ments in the cou­ple’s past, Amour – shot in som­bre greys by Dar­ius Khondji – fo­cuses closely on Ge­orges’s ef­forts to make some­thing bear­able of an in­tol­er­a­ble sit­u­a­tion.

Like the dis­carded par­ents who shuf­fle their way through Tokyo Story, Anne and Ge­orges only have each other. Is­abelle Hup­pert’s abra­sive turn as their fairly ghastly daugh­ter stresses the point. No­body can prop­erly em­pathise when a gen­uine soul mate faces their end.

Riva and Trintig­nant are flaw­less in the lead­ing roles. Still best known for her per­for­mance in Alain Res­nais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour, Riva cre­ates a strong, warm char­ac­ter and – faintly mirac­u­lously – keeps it vis­i­ble while dis­ease strips away pow­ers of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Trintig­nant, an­other great vet­eran of French cinema, en­gen­ders im­pres­sive de­grees of sym­pa­thy for a man who doesn’t seem to like other peo­ple very much.

Is Amour a lit­tle too aus­tere, a lit­tle two acutely fo­cused? Scrupu­lously clean, ap­pointed with un­invit­ingly pris­tine fur­ni­ture, the apart­ment does even­tu­ally be­gin to take on the qual­ity of a lux­ury morgue. Only in a Haneke film could a home look so scrupu­lously and op­pres­sively or­dered. The decor calls to mind the di­rec­tor’s 1989 drama The Seventh Con­ti­nent, wherein a bour­geois fam­ily choose death and chaos over mid­dle-class con­fine­ment. They, at least, had op­tions.

It would, of course, be mad­ness to ask Haneke to let us off the hook and take the char­ac­ters for a walk in the park. Ab­hor­rence of sen­ti­men­tal­ity is a bit of a re­li­gion for this great di­rec­tor. No film can hope to pre­pare us for the point­less, op­pres­sive wretched­ness of mor­bid­ity. But the sin­cerely ti­tled Amour comes as close as one could hope.

Slowly and qui­etly, the di­rec­tor’s 11th fea­ture equals and sur­passes all the emo­tional jolts once sup­plied by the ex­plod­ing pig’s head of Benny’s Video. Just don’t ex­pect The Note­book.

Jean-Louis Trintig­nant as the stoic, ded­i­cated hus­band in Amour

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