Rich Haridy

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: The winner of this year's Palme d’Or at Cannes, Michael Haneke’s clinically precise new film is his most digestible cinematic achievement to date.
Amour snagged Michael Haneke his second consecutive Palme d’Or last month after winning in 2009 with The White Ribbon. While it may superficially appear to be his most gentle, straightforward film to date, don’t be fooled; this is as clinically precise as any Haneke film to date. Amour may be elegant and austere but it is also powerfully cold. This is not exactly the humanistic Haneke film we had been led to believe.

Legendary French actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant – lured back to the screen after a 14 year absence – plays Georges, loving and devoted husband to Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). When Anne suffers a stroke one day, Georges’ life dramatically changes as he nurses a swiftly deteriorating Anne towards her inevitable death. Haneke opens his film with the police finding Anne’s body, alone and rotting, in the apartment so at no point is there a mystery as to how this film will end. Haneke isn’t so much being sadistic by structuring Amour this way but he wants his audience to be constantly aware of this inevitability.

As Georges grapples with the trauma of seeing the one he loves slowly disappear, their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), visits and occasionally suggests that they put Anne in a hospice. Georges resists this, reiterating his promise to Anne that he would never put her in a ‘home’. It is clear that Amour is Haneke’s statement on the extent of true love but the film is far from simplistic. It is admirable that Georges’ devotion to caring to Anne leads him to essentially sacrifice his own existence but I felt that Haneke was clearly asking us to question the point at which this blind love reached a level of folly. At what point does your love in caring for someone become unhealthy? As Anne’s condition worsens and she reaches levels of dementia that leave her in a childlike state, is Georges’ love-filled devotion a positive thing?

Haneke turns Amour into an endurance test for the audience, immersing them in the claustrophobic confines of the couple’s apartment and never letting us leave. The entire film (except for a magnificent moment near the beginning) is set in this single space, and despite issues of religion, euthanasia and morality skirting at the borders of the story, Haneke is determined to keep you experientially in the moment. His cold, objective mise-en-scene masterfully places you in the position of conscientious observer. A viscerally exciting dream sequence is one of the film’s only missteps and one wonders why Haneke felt the need to include it.

Amour is undoubtedly a vigorously devastating experience. The deceptive simplicity of the film belies the masterful craftsmanship at work here as Haneke offers up his most digestible cinematic achievement to date.

Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5

Director: Michael Haneke
France/Germany/Austria, 2012, 126 min

Sydney Film Festival
June 7 – 17

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Rich Haridy is a freelance, Melbourne-based film critic,  Melbourne University Masters student, and Chair of the Australian Film Critics Association. His writing can be found on the Quickflix blog and his own website, Rich On Film; he also co-hosts the film debate show, The Parallax Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @RichonFilm