By Timmy Brown
Viewers accustomed to sentimentality on the big screen would be disappointed by Michael Haneke’s Amour, which won the prestigious Palme d’Or and nearly swept the European Film Awards last year. Haneke’s film, which also recently won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, is nonetheless a work of art of the highest order, a frank portrait of the way one elderly couple deals with the inevitable approach of death.
Amour follows Georges and Anne, two retired music teachers living in Paris. When Anne suffers a stroke that paralyzes half of her body, the couple must learn to modify their daily routines to accommodate her disability. The temporary arrival of their daughter Eva, who insists that her mother be moved to a care facility, complicates the situation and forces Georges to choose between following his daughter’s suggestion and keeping his promise to Anne that he would take care of her in the comfort of their home.
The film features many of the hallmarks of Haneke’s other movies: spare dialogue, long shots, and crisp editing. There is no soundtrack; the only music we hear occurs as an organic part of the scene. Nearly the entire film takes place within the confines of the couple’s Parisian apartment, giving us the impression that, for Georges and Anne, this is the only world that matters in the final weeks of Anne’s life.
Under the control of a less daring filmmaker, Amour would try to make us wonder whether or not Anne lives or dies. But Haneke resolves that issue in the shocking opening sequence. And instead of a tidy Hollywood-style ending, the powerfully symbolic final scenes force us to ask ourselves how we would help our own relatives die with dignity—and how far we would be willing to go for someone we love.