‘Amour’ by Michael Haneke is stirring portrait of love under difficult circumstances

Hollywood Soapbox logoMichael Haneke’s Amour, featuring touching performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, is a simple story about a married couple’s difficulties following a catastrophic stroke. Anne’s health problems may grow worse, but they never seem to diminish Georges’ dedication as her husband. They both learn how to deal with the “new normal” and carry on, despite some grueling uphill battles. But will the “new normal” be what they want?

Haneke’s film serves as a layered, subtle effort to understand and appreciate the love, drive and fortitude needed not only to survive a serious illness but also survive a marriage put under some difficult constraints. Anne and Georges don’t always agree about the health care choices that need to be made. Georges attempts to give his wife the best life possible, while Anne begins losing her desire to live. The widening gap between the two is one that often needs to be considered by couples.

The two central performances provide a master class on the art of acting. Trintignant and Riva are not showy actors, instead basing their performances in reality and somberness. These are not performances peppered with obvious “Oscar” moments. Haneke, instead, focuses the two-hander on struggle, anguish and even monotony, and the actors follow his lead.

Small victories and constant setbacks are often the difficulty in dealing with long-term illness. The common thread in both Anne and Georges’ actions is their obvious love for each other, even when that love is tested.

In a short time span, I’ve grown to appreciate Haneke’s films. His Caché is a brilliant study in familial terror and mystery, while Amour is much more restrained. He seems interested in detailing the inner-workings of normal families under extraordinary circumstances. One could call him a documenter of human actions and characteristics.

For some, especially those audience members not appreciative of subtle indie films, these deep studies of humanity could seem boring or practices in futility. However, there are far greater rewards to his films, at least Amour and Caché, than first meets the eye. Characterization, realistic dialogue and natural drama matter to him as a storyteller.

Amour received Oscar nominations for good reasons. Riva’s performance is strong and commanding, while Haneke’s direction is soft and respectful. His writing is beautifully low-key, almost as if the actors were improvising, like in a Mike Leigh film. The script has a way of evolving, from scene to scene, with no cheap dramatic flourishes. Although there is a climax in the film, it never feels like Amour is working by some tested rubric. This is visceral filmmaking that’s meant to feel natural and everyday.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Amour

  • 2012

  • Written and directed by Michael Haneke

  • Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert

  • Running time: 125 minutes

  • Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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