BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Amour’ review

Winner of the coveted Palme d’Or prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Michael Haneke’s heartbreaking Amour (2012) makes its UK debut in LFF’s newly created ‘Love’ strand this week. A minimalistic masterpiece of quiet majesty, Haneke has once again confounded his naysayers by creating a film of genuine heartfelt warmth and unconditional affection, expressed between a dying wife and her caring husband. Whilst this is certainly no sentimentality-ridden melodrama – quite the opposite in fact, as Haneke’s cool, authorial mastery can still be seen at work – there is still a tangible sense that the Austrian auteur has, however fleetingly, come in from the cold.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva put in delicate, award-worthy performances as ageing octogenarian couple Georges and Anne. Leading a culturally-rich, contented existence tucked away in their book-filled apartment, their lives are changed irrevocably when Anne suffers a series of debilitating strokes. Taking on the mantle of carer, Georges dutifully tends to the fading light of his life, receiving only sporadic help from his self-involved daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) and a part-time nurse.

With both Leos Carax’s Holy Motors (2012) and Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (2012) running it close for Cannes’ top honour, with Amour Haneke has once again proved himself one of the best (if not the best) living European filmmaker. In almost any other director’s care, this beautifully drawn tale of love and lost would have been painted in broad, slushy stokes, suffocated by mawkish nostalgia. Instead, the Austrian strips his film of excess schmaltz, leaving behind a starkly honest, almost clinical portrayal of the human bonds that tie us together.

One scene perfectly illustrates the above point. Returning from a friend’s funeral, Trintignant’s Georges bemoans the rank sentimentality on display courtesy of the late man’s family members (visibly squirming as he recounts the playing of The Beatles’ Let It Be), relaying all this to his now wheelchair-bound partner. An underlying belief in the dignity of death pervades throughout, with Georges going as far as to take decisive action against one nurse who he perceives to have abused her position. “I hope you are treated the way you treat your patients.”, he calmly retorts.

Whilst tears may not be elicited from each and every audience member (remember, this is no simple manipulative melodrama), the relentless ravages of time upon the human body – coupled with the universality of mortal life – should evoke some form of emotional response in even the most hardened of cinemagoers. As uplifting as it is melancholic, Haneke’s Amour is perhaps the director’s most accessible, intrinsically human work to date.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green