Everyone is, on some level, aware that they will grow old and die. There’s a selfish centrality to the knowledge, focusing almost entirely on our own experience. What happens to us when we are gone; what will our loved ones remember us for; what will happen to our belongings? As we grow older – even though we may still be relatively young – we imagine the way we will meet our own end with almost unerring narcissism.
But what about when those we claim to love, those we have spent our whole life with, reach the inevitable finish line before us? Will we be able to put ourselves aside, to allow their needs and wants to subjugate our own? Or will we continue to push our will, to try to shape their life so that it might better reflect that life onto which we wish to hold?
Amour, you are a film that doesn’t ask these questions so much as write them down on a slip of paper before meaningfully sliding it across the table, standing up, and leaving the room. You do not paint a picture of a couple slowly but inexorably separated by death so much as pull the blinds open on a window to that vision.
Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are an octogenarian couple living alone in a polished and light-filled flat in France. Anne is a piano player, an artist and a teacher who sees one of her students rise to prominence. When she is stricken with a stroke which leaves one side of her body paralyzed, the impetus to continue living her life is removed – her being is so irrevocably changed as to be unrecognizable to her. But Georges still sees her as his wife, diminished though she may be.
This is his form of love, the possession and maintenance of a status quo which works for him, one which he also thinks works for his wife. Anne positions herself as a burden to him, yet he views his task as a form of reverent consideration. The lessening of her burden does not remove it, nor does it make the fact that her joy was taken from her any less painful, but that he tries at all seems to Georges to be a form of love. A love that makes him blind to her internal pain, though not disinterested in easing her suffering. A love which makes him hide Anne’s condition from the outside world, even their adult daughter (Isabelle Huppert).
And what is love? The definition changes from person to person, from relationship to relationship. In my eyes, the only eyes I could use to watch your story unfold, love is the ability to surrender yourself to a form of attachment that can either find you elevated or devastated. It is likewise the ability to allow pieces of your life to slide into the control of someone with the power to alter you against your wishes gladly, and yet who has done the same and thus will not. It is a form of mutually assured impact, a sort of stalemate of submission. With the right bond, love is joyous. Otherwise, it is calamitous.
Is this correct? Who can say? The best part about my definition of love, as should be true with everyone’s definition of love, is that it is ever-changing. This is what Georges comes to learn. Or does he? How else can we reconcile the choices he makes, the place he goes?
One can, and will, get lost in the psychology of your characters, which is one of the many genius aspects of any Michael Haneke film. It is not an excuse, however, to overlook the stylistic choices that help to accentuate the outside influences on the story. Haneke is a master craftsman of the visual art of film, so much so that with only a few brush strokes and a simple palette he can create works of insurmountable majesty that other artists would struggle to rival with every shade and hue the medium had to offer.
A simple scene of a woman, and outsider, vacuuming under an unused piano speaks to the necessary intrusions and atrophies that invalidity can bring into a household. A bird flying in through a window can be a cypher to be puzzled over endlessly, or it can be a simple act of nature to be handled to the best of the ability of a living, breathing character. Long, extended shots on the single side of a conversation leave the actors nowhere to hide, and offer the viewer an unblinking insight into the character. Silence speaks as loudly as a shout.
If this letter seems tortured, difficult, count that as a mark in the favor of the power of your narrative. Distance is required to truly dissect and study anything, even art, and yours is a story that I cannot distance myself from. There is a monologue toward your conclusion – a story about a misplaced childhood artifact – that has been playing in my mind every day since I saw you two weeks ago. It makes me pause, sends me into a melancholy reverie that cannot be broken.
To me, sinking into you and losing myself in your story is as simple, effortless, and elemental as breathing. Explaining the act and necessity of breathing is a task that seems as though it should be elementary, but once you begin to speak in order to defend the act you get caught up in the absurdity of articulating something that should be self-evident. This is the issue that I find myself wrestling with once I begin to speak about you. I shouldn’t have to explain my feelings toward you – loving you should be as innate and unimpeachable as breathing.
With enduring love,
Brian J. Roan