Georges and Anne are content. They may not enjoy the difficulties of growing old—those bad-eyesight, ache-and-pain, weak-muscle, foggy-memory parts of life. But as long as they can go through it together, it will be all right.
As long as they sit hand-in-hand at concerts and shoulder-to-shoulder on the bus ride home, talk intimately and smile over dinner together, and lie in warm, companionable silence while reading in bed, well, then the graying, wrinkling and limping will be endurable.
In truth, there's almost a comfortable, old-shoe joy about it. And we know that comfortable old shoes always come in pairs.
Unfortunately, we also know that they just don't last forever.
During one simple morning breakfast, Anne freezes up—like a clock with a jamming gear. She goes blank with an almost terrifyingly empty stare. Nothing Georges does can start her mechanisms turning again. He panics, reaches for a coat and the doctor's number … and then she's back. It's a relief. But it's a short reprieve.
The loving couple both fear that Anne's glitch will mean something awful. And, indeed, it is the beginning of a new declining phase in their lives. Following failed tests by the doctors, a debilitating stroke and a protracted hospital stay, Anne finally comes home—the right side of her body paralyzed. She makes Georges promise to never return her to that cold, hard hospital again.
Shoulder-to-shoulder bus rides are now a past pleasure. Concerts only echo evilly in their minds. The comfortable things that were … simply serve as sad reminders of the miseries that are.
Georges loves Anne dearly. And as her physical and mental health fades, we see him readily take on the difficult jobs of exercising and cleaning his wife's paralyzed body. He helps her move around in her early stages of decline, and as he strains to move her, their embraced efforts almost look like those of a loving dance.
The couple's daughter, Eva, may not fully understand her parents' struggles, but she takes time to visit as often as possible and offer her mother words of hope. A former piano student of Anne's—who's now a concert pianist—comes to visit and praises her for all the work and effort she invested in him when he was a child.
At one point, Anne asks to look at some old family photo albums. "It's beautiful," she murmurs. When Georges asks her what she's referring to, she replies, "Life. Long life."
Life and love and death. Those are the basic elements of Amour. And we all know that each carries with it a great deal of spiritual import. But the movie speaks not at all to that. (And we'll later deal with what happens when the matters of God are deliberated upon by the minds of men.)
A priest at a funeral service is referred to as an "idiot." Anne reads a horoscope.
Eva talks about her husband having an affair, then coming back to her. She also tells her dad that, as a girl, she would sometimes come into the house and hear them making love. "To me it was reassuring," she tells him. "It meant that we would always be together."
Not portrayed in a sexual manner, we see Anne's naked torso (from the side) and bare legs.
Early on, Georges and Anne come home to find that burglars have tried to break into their apartment. Later, Georges dreams of being accosted by an unseen character who grabs him roughly by the neck.
As Anne's condition deteriorates, Georges struggles to feed her. When she stubbornly refuses to drink and spits her water back at him, Georges gets angry and slaps her face (much to his own shame). As things grow progressively worse, Anne begins repeatedly crying out in pain.
[Spoiler Warning] Georges finally can't take Anne's lack of capacity, her anguish, her pain any longer. He ends her life by placing a pillow over her face. She jerks and convulses for a time. Then lies still.
Crude or Profane Language
The subtitles reveal that one f-word, "pr‑‑k" and one or two interjections of "d‑‑n" are spoken. We hear one misuse each of God's and Christ's names.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see an open wine bottle and a glass or two of wine at several dinners. We see Georges smoke a few times.
Other Negative Elements
As Anne's physical and mental condition degrades, we watch Georges and several nurses deal with her illness and incontinence—including pulling her out of her soiled sheets, diapering her and otherwise struggling with messes she makes.
Austrian director Michael Haneke is known for injecting jarring subject matter into his films—from the imposed humiliations of sadistic home invaders (in Funny Games) to the grotesque sexual obsessions of a music instructor (in The Piano Teacher). Compared to those pics, Amour, a French-language film featuring English subtitles here in the U.S., is something of a slowly paced chamber piece; an intimate examination of the small bouts of misery that go on behind everyday doors in everyday lives.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons why this piece has grabbed the film community's attention, earning Golden Globe prizes and numerous Academy Award nominations. The direction is simple and low-key, the story nakedly frank and the acting painfully real.
That doesn't in any way make Amour satisfying, instructive or rewarding, though. A reviewer from eastbayexpress.com put it this way: "The ironically titled Amour is a bitter, pitiless piece of work, a flower of evil pressed in a book of unacknowledged prayers."
This is actually a film about love, as that title suggests. But other than bittersweet moments of tenderness and brief flashes of small kindnesses, it's an utterly humanist love that struggles in its weakness, balks at the gracelessness of the human condition and shouts in anger at the empty pain of existence. There is no godly faith, hope or grace here.
No sense of the sanctity of life.
Instead, Amour defines the limits of love's agony and then recommends death over distress. Murder over misery. Some call that the way of all things. The only sane conclusion. But, much like this film, it's a bleak and empty choice. What could have been a rich look at true love in a time of loss turns into an empty existential scream.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges; Emmanuelle Riva as Anne; Isabelle Huppert as Eva
Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, Funny Games, Piano Teacher)
Sony Pictures Classics
December 19, 2012
Bob Hoose Bob Hoose