Faith & Film: Amour

“Amour” is a critically acclaimed film, which just won the Oscar for foreign language film. Even though it’s set in Paris, and the dialogue is in French, it was the official selection of Austria! I understand that writer-director Michael Haneke is German by birth, but lives in Austria. There’s the connection!

Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuel Riva) are retired music teachers in their 80s who live in a Paris apartment. Anne suffers a series of strokes. At first, she is paralyzed on her right side. She continues to deteriorate to the point where she is totally bedridden, unable to feed herself. When she returns from the hospital after her first stroke, Anne makes Georges promise that he will never again take her to a hospital, or any institution. Understandably, she wants to live the rest of her life at home.

This decision takes a terrible toll on Georges. He becomes a prisoner in the small apartment, rarely leaving. Their only relative is a daughter, Eva, who lives in London, and visits occasionally. Georges grows to resent Eva, and will not return her calls. In her final visit, Georges refuses to let Eva see her mother, saying she would not want anyone to see her in her current state. However, Georges eventually relents and allows Eva into the bedroom. Georges also fires a nurse, accusing her of being cruel to Anne. The only support he has is another nurse who comes three times a week to care for Anne, and a neighbor who helps bring in the groceries.

While the dedication of Georges for Anne is admirable, for sure, the movie is very difficult to watch. Not wanting the story of Anne and Georges to seem sympathetic or even maudlin, Haneke’s film is extremely stark, bleak, and harsh. It’s the only film I can remember in which there is no musical score to speak of, with the exception of some sporadic piano music played by a former student. I found the movie excruciatingly difficult to sit through.

Finally, out of desperation and frustration, Georges commits a horrific act. While the act may be understandable, after all Georges has suffered, it cannot be condoned.

The actors give very good performances. Riva received an Oscar nomination as a woman, once beautiful, intelligent, and talented, who declines with age and infirmity. Trintignant is equally good as a man doing his best to honor his wife’s request, but at an awful cost. As it plays out, “Amour” is really Georges’ story, as a devoted husband who honors his wife’s request. He dedicates his life to serving her. “Amour” is a testament to the need for community. Had a community been present to Georges, either at home or in a hospital or hospice, perhaps he would not have committed his terrible, desperate act.

While I certainly understand and am sympathetic to the plight of men and women like Georges and Anne, I cannot recommend this movie. Subject matter like this demands a real beauty of language or style in order to succeed. Unfortunately, I only found “Amour” to be depressing, without being enlightening.

Tom Condon, OP