Rewarding renowned Austrian director Michael Haneke with his second Palme d’Or within three years, Amour (2012) is arguably the auteur’s magnum opus – a stripped down, yet profoundly effecting portrayal of love that hits you like an unexpected tear, rolling down your cheek with the weight of a thousand heartbreaks. Opening with a powerful foreword that informs the audience of the sad, yet inevitable outcome of this sombre tale, Amour never attempts to mask its intentions. Therefore, when we flashback to Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) enjoying a piano concerto at a sold out show, we’re already expecting the worst.
Still, almost nothing can prepare us for what’s to come – a raw, often unflinching, yet strangely poetic examination of devotion and unwavering love in the face of debilitating illness. Death, or more precisely old age, remains the one fear that unites us as a species, yet remains relatively undocumented in the medium of film. The end of the life cycle, when we revert to the same dependant, incontinent and helpless state that we entered into this world kicking and screaming, old age remains a cinematic taboo.
With Amour, Haneke has captured the grief of our own mortality in a delicate and profoundly humane way. Using theatre techniques to add a sense of intimacy to his already suffocating chamber piece, the director beautifully captures the anguish and indignities of ageing whilst exploring the uncompromising power of live with a vehement emotional force that leaves you exhausted by the end. Indeed, the Austrian’s latest effort could tangibly be described as a horror film about our inherent fear of death. Yet the film itself remains strangely uplifting, thanks chiefly to its two astonishing lead performances – the returning Georges and Anne (reoccurring character names throughout Haneke’s oeuvre).
You can’t really single out either of Amour’s protagonists for individual praise as their performances weigh so heavily on the other that they create a tender and example of true love without any of the greeting card cliches and sentiment we’re force-fed to believe is the corner stone of successful relationship. Both Riva and Trintignant are products of the French Nouvelle Vague, and this sense of cinematic nostalgia seeps into the film, building the foundations of a long-standing connection with the audience moulded through cinematic memory. Their tender affections depict the fortitude of love to endure regardless of physics ignominies, painting a sombre, yet beguiling portrait of compassion and resolute adoration.
When you look through the years and pick the defining directors of a generation there’s little denying that Haneke’s name will be used to define the importance of European cinema at the turn of the century. With Amour, Haneke has not only created his most reserved and pensive film to date – he’s created one of the greatest films about love ever made.