Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Amour
Published: 15 November, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by Michael Haneke
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
Love is a many splendoured thing, the classic jazz standard tells us, and it grows in early spring.
This incredible film shows that as well as flourishing at the start of a year, love does not necessary fade as the days go by – and that as we grow older we face difficult choices that come from a life of loving one another.
Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are a couple getting on in years. They are enjoying their retirement in their well positioned and nicely turned out Parisian apartment. It’s a home full of a lifetime spent together, and a rather wonderful life, too: books, music and a grand piano show how this couple have shared interests, and are still very much in love, still very active, and still have lots of energy to spend enjoying a well-earned retirement.
We learn Anne was a piano teacher, and the couple’s introduction to the audience comes as they watch one of her former pupils give a recital at a swanky theatre on the Champs-Elysée.
We also hear of how they brought up a family, and their successful offspring are an obvious source of joy.
But this warm-coated scenario quickly lurches into a nightmare: Anne has a stroke and from then on in it is about the changing nature of their relationship, as Georges tries to do what is best for his wife, respect her wishes, and come to terms with her new circumstances which mean she has lost her mobility.
We are offered a seat in the corner of the sitting room as Anne realises she won’t ever play the piano again. It is just the start of a nightmare, as dementia begins to take a grip.
Director Michael Haneke uses an opening scene that plays a chronological trick on the audience, giving a point of time for us to reach through the rest of the film, and keeps us guessing as to how and why we are getting there.
This is a big film, a well-made film, beautifully acted, and incredibly moving.
Trintignant and Riva are simply breathtaking. Riva’s slipping away from a world of exterior emotions to be trapped within her own body is a masterclass of using small gestures to portray big emotions.
Trintignant as the husband watching the woman he has loved all his life disappear in front of his eyes is exceptional. The love and attention he shows her as he tries to do all he can to respect her wishes, to make her life comfortable is almost too much to watch at times.
It is also a rather harrowing experience. The pace of the film is crucial to the storytelling but it doesn’t make for an easy watch. It lingers in places you don’t fancy hanging around, but this is a crucial element in making the storyline work.
On the plus side, while the themes of the passing of time, of grief, and of loss are never easy to consider, Haneke’s subtle picture will make you want to clasp the ones you love close, tell them how important they are to you, and may see you leaving the cinema determined to appreciate what you have.
That may not have been Haneke’s original aim, but it was the lingering sense that came from this extraordinary, tragic effort.