Amour: A film about true devotion

Apr 11, 2013

You can see Amour at Western Michigan University’s Little Theatre. The first showing is Friday night at 7.

There’s a good reason why so many love stories end with the couple heading for the altar or happily running off together. That’s because falling in love is easy and staying in love can be very hard work -- especially if you spend 30 or 40 or 50 years with the same partner.

Over time, illusions fade, flaws surface and feelings inevitably change, with some intensifying and some disappearing altogether. Real love must go beyond sex appeal and good times; it must be strong enough to make two people realize their lives are forever entwined.

Michael Haneke’s Amour, which won the Academy Award for best foreign language film, begins long after what is supposed to be the traditional happy ending. Jean-Louis Trintignant and best actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva play George and Anne, a pair of Parisian music teachers who seem to be living comfortably as they enter their 80s.

Then comes the morning that Anne sits down to breakfast and completely freezes up, gazing off into nowhere, as if in a trance. When George finally gets a response from her, she doesn’t remember a thing about what just happened. Then she proceeds to pour herself a cup of tea and finds she can’t. From here on out, nothing is simple or particularly joyful.

Haneke’s screenplay is a tough, unsparing portrait of what devotion and self-sacrifice really look like. George fights to maintain his strength and mental health as he watches the woman he has adored for decades slowly fading away before his eyes. Again and again, he runs into the realization that as much as we want to spare our loved ones the agony of illness there is really only so much we can do.

Diagnosed with carotid artery obstruction and ravaged by a series of strokes, the determined Anne hurles herself into a heartbreaking battle determined to cope with her deteriorating condition. She insists that George not send her to a hospital, so he decides to care for her at home. Their apartment becomes more like a well-furnished prison cell as Haneke’s camera circles Anne and George, studying them relentlessly. Isabelle Huppert plays their estranged daughter, Eva, a well-meaning but irritatingly self-absorbed musician who ultimately doesn’t have time for anyone’s problems but her own.

Let’s be honest: No one is going to call Amour a rollicking good time at the movies and anyone who has seen some of Haneke’s earlier films, such as The White Ribbon or the extremely unnerving chiller Cacheshould have some idea what to expect. He doesn’t have much of a stomach for sentimentality or sweetness, and there are sequences in Amour that are as tough to watch as the highpoints of any horror film.

There’s also plenty of truly gripping human drama, however, and the quiet, elegant beauty of Riva and Trintignant’s performances is unforgettable. There are certain movies that seize your emotions early on and never let go and, for better or for worse, Amour is definitely one of those films.