The story of Amour begins with Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) attending a concert of real-life pianist Alexandre Tharaud, whom we later discover, in the fictional world, is a former student of Anne’s. The concert is not of great interest, but the lovely long shot of Georges and Anne laughing naturally on a bus ride back to a spacious and bourgeois Parisian apartment is. The fictional couple portrayed has been together for some time and are very much in love, as we can guess from the title and their apparent ease with one another.
At five minutes into the feature film, we enter the fictional characters’ home and remain there for the duration.
After Anne’s abrupt awakening in the middle of the night, the morning starts a long and painful journey toward her life’s end. This day is initially like any other. The dialogue between husband and wife at the table illustrates German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of idle talk. Georges talks about fixing their broken lock, friends waiting for plumbers, and perhaps going to purchase Alexandre’s CD later on.
When Anne becomes orally and physically unresponsive, and we see Georges’ panicked gaze and Anne’s completely blank stare through Haneke’s brilliant use of the shot-reverse shot, it becomes evident that something is amiss. Georges insists that she must be examined by their doctor, Bertier. The scene closes with Anne shakily pouring her tea, missing her cup and filling the saucer.
What follows is a series of static shots of the empty rooms in the apartment, beautifully lit by the city night, and radiating a ghostly glow. These serve two purposes, or three if we consider their reapplication later in the film in the form of landscape paintings. The first is to establish the spaces that both characters and the audience will occupy for the following hour and 45 minutes. Second, without a human presence, time has no significance, and thus, in the next sequence of an exchange between Georges and his daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), we have a sense of temporal ellipsis, a recurring theme.
We are not sure how many days or weeks later the drama returns after Anne has been taken to the doctor. Instead, we are introduced to a selfish Eva who we presume is visiting father and mother after the latter’s unsuccessful carotid artery surgery. She chatters on and on about her husband, Geoff, and his infidelities, and Haneke shoots at a distance behind Georges’ armchair, capturing the front of Eva in full profile, indicating her self-importance.
When their boring conversation concludes, a cut takes us to two men installing a medical bed in the couple’s bedroom. Anne’s technological bed, capable of adjusting to her needs, spills over the frame to highlight its importance as her body will slowly decay atop it.
The still shots of seven lush, green landscape paintings about three-quarters into the film mimic the earlier still shots of the isolated apartment. It is a depressing reflection on Anne’s immobility, her body rooted to that mattress, and her inability to see, hear, smell, and touch such picturesque environments ever again.
We know in some capacity what is going to happen next: the story will depict Anne’s indefinite suffering and looming death, as well as Georges’ kindnesses, anxieties, fatigue, and anger while caring for her.
But in this suffering, we find the other person as such. “[I]t is out of that other time, the time of his or her dying,” American philosopher Alphonso Lingis writes, “that the other addresses me.”
One may die alone, but the touch of consolation is acknowledgment, a contact which forces the dying person out of herself, and to a recognition that her suffering is not in vain. Suffering and dying are then tied to an imperative need to accompany a person in their final moments of life, accompaniment indicating to the dying person that their projects will be carried forward after they have gone. This we see in long and detailed scenes in Amour.
Three-quarters into the film regarding her mother’s rapidly deteriorating health, Eva poses Georges with the question, “What’s going to happen now?” It’s a selfish and demanding question that concerns viewers. It becomes expressive of the plot until that point, and Georges’ answer hints at reflexivity: “The nurse comes three times a week. Every two weeks, Dr. Bertier and the hairdresser come. That’s what you wanted to know? No? Things will go on as they have done up until now. They’ll go from bad to worse. Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.”
The reflexive exchange between father and daughter, at perhaps the moment when we ourselves are fatigued, bored, or overwhelmed by the barrage of horrible images of a dying woman who we wish would perish peacefully, reminds us that depicting slow death is the film’s essence. Georges again says, “What should be going on [with Anne’s rapidly deteriorating condition/with the narrative of the film]? … Nothing’s going on. I want to spare us all a pointless drama.”
Images of decay, loss of bodily functions, self and identity, “nothing of any of that is worth showing.” We would not see this in most films, but Haneke shows us nevertheless. We witness Anne’s descent into death, accomplished by the long take, a slowing down of image, and minimal editing so as “to (re)attach the mined [of the spectator] to the shot, to the work of looking – noticing, taking in – and reflecting,” says Vicky LeBeau, a professor at the University of Sussex.
The message of the film is clear. Love is the ability to endure “catastrophic existence,” says French philosopher Alain Badiou. Amour also mimics Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (1961). Badiou’s cherished example of the obstinacy of love and its characteristics of fidelity and commitment which can persevere through “the disastrous state of [the old couple’s] bodies.”
The mistake of poorly reflecting on the meaning of Amour and its title derives from a misunderstanding of love as a singular moment or expression. Love is rather a continued and prolonged expression, exemplified by Georges and Anne as they deteriorate, falter, lose consciousness and patience, and still remain together, despite Eva’s suggestion that her father should not have to handle the burden alone. Love is a commitment to stay together and in love until the very end, and even beyond.
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