CINEMA: News Weekly
Questioning the amorous gaze
, April 13, 2013
A multi-award-winning film, Amour (rated M), is reviewed by Symeon Thompson.
Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant)
and ailing wife Anne (Emmannuelle Riva).
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s Amour is an undoubtedly important film. It has won 43 awards, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and the Palme d’Or at Cannes, as well as receiving another 36 nominations.
At the same time, it has been denounced as propaganda for euthanasia. Such denunciations miss the point and, in so doing, miss the point of art, and the actual problems with the art-house.
Amour (French for “love”) opens with a door being broken down and the discovery of the body of Anne
(Emmanuelle Riva), lying on a bed, arrayed with flowers. It then gently cuts back, almost as if the rest of the film is an aside, and shows what led to such violence.
Anne and Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) are retired music teachers. Their lives revolve around their love for each other, and their love of music.
Their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is a successful musician, married to an Englishman, Geoff (William Shimell), another successful musician and a philanderer. Their lives revolve around their careers and their money.
Anne develops paralysis and dementia. We watch the devotion given her by Georges. We see her suffering and humiliation. We see that Eva hurts, but that she will not help.
Finally, we see Georges suffocate Anne in a scene that is sudden, shocking and heartbreaking — before we return to the deafening silence that opens the film.
The aesthetic is ascetic. There is no “soundtrack” or virtuosic camerawork. Everything is focussed on the painstaking composition of each frame, much like a painting.
The reasons for the acclaim can be easily seen. Haneke is an awe-inspiring master of his craft. The actors are amongst the most experienced in the world. The plot alone has an intensity akin to those of Sophocles.
The reasons for film’s denunciation can also be easily seen. Anne’s murder is inevitable, and the seeming rationale is that of “love”. Trintignant is even on record saying that euthanasia is “an act of love”.
But Trintignant is only an actor, a “marionette”, as Naomi Watts complained to Haneke when he remade Funny Games (2007) with her. Haneke is the auteur — the one who wrote the script, directed the shoot and cut the film.
The most he is prepared to say is that he was inspired by his aunt begging for death. He not only refused, but it was he who found her and had her hospitalised. Being an artist and an intellectual, he refuses to provide “easy” explanations of his work.
For Haneke, art is about “questions, not answers”. He is particularly concerned with questions of violence and, most importantly, “lovelessness”, especially their depiction in other media, and the impact this depiction has upon an audience.
He is keenly aware that movies are not presentations of reality, but re-presentations of it, via their maker’s will. They are arguments expressed in moving images, philosophy worked out through pictures.
Haneke wants audiences to make the conclusions themselves. He depicts the premises of the argument and leaves audiences to decide. Thus, he is open to multiple interpretations of his work.
However, these interpretations must have some basis in reality. It has been claimed that Amour is the “twin” of a Nazi propaganda film. This is rubbished by Steven Greydanus, the conservative film critic of decentfilms.com, and possibly the only person who has actually seen both. He says such a comparison is “beyond wrong; it is simply indefensible”.
Amour could be used as an argument for legalising euthanasia. Anne’s suffering seems endless, and her murder a respite. But the murder is so shocking that such a claim is itself shocking. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby was clearly propaganda, but Amour is not so easily dismissed.
If we consider Haneke’s oft-stated aesthetics, it is more likely that Amour is an indictment of a society where euthanasia is seen as “loving”. Nevertheless, it is a film that still takes seriously the claim that it is an act of love, one that we cannot pre-judge.
Throughout the movie Haneke shows the Laurents as isolated, lacking family and friends, confined to their apartment, imprisoned by their belongings. Their life is “loveless” — apart from each other.
This shows the real flaw in Amour, and in other artwork of its ilk. They clearly see the evils of the world, and they rage against them; but they are trapped by their own frames of reference, unable to offer a counterpoint.
Sadly, unlike his cinematic heroes — Denmark’s Carl Theodor Dreyer, France’s Robert Bresson and Russia’s Andrei Tarkovsky — Haneke has no faith. They made films “like” Haneke’s — superb, infuriating, soulful films. But, unlike him, they believed there was something good and true and beautiful, even if they were never quite sure how best to capture it on camera.
These film-makers, and those artists like them, show that Beauty does save the world, not the meticulous and clinical re-presentation of the world’s horrors.