Amour – 2012
This was a very emotional French language film, but what do you expect from a title that simply means Love. It dealt with a subject that few movies have the courage to deal with, and it did so with extreme care and sensitivity. The plot is a simple one and can be summed up in just a few sentences. An elderly man must cope with caring for his wife as her health steadily deteriorates. Under this strain, their love is not so much tested as it is tempered and strengthened. However, the sad climax, where the man euthanizes his wife, while not completely unexpected, was, I think, not as depressing as it could or should have been.
Of course, because it was all in French, I spent the entire movie reading subtitles. It’s not my favorite way to watch a film, but it’s alright. The two lead actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, played Georges and Anne Laurent, retired music teachers whose students have gone on to become world-renowned musicians. One morning Anne suffers a silent stroke, during which she becomes catatonic, completely unresponsive to her bewildered husband. After a few minutes, she revives. The frightened Georges questions her, but she cannot remember what happened. The couple is about to ignore the incident when it becomes apparent that Anne cannot perform the simple task of pouring herself a cup of tea.
The next time we see her, she is in a wheelchair. Her mobility is limited and Georges must now help her with things that were once simple. He must help her to bathe and go to the toilet. He must help her dress and get into bed. At one point Anne seems to rally as if she is on the mend, but then suffers a second stroke which leaves the right side of her body paralyzed. From then on she is confined to a sick bed. Georges must now feed her and change her diapers.
But the film isn’t about Anne so much as it is about Georges. It is really about his struggles, both physical and emotional as he cares for the woman who he dearly loves. His emotions are strained as he sees his wife suffer. He goes through sorrow, depression, anger, and fear as he tries to keep his own spirits up. He is visited by their daughter, Eva, played by Isabelle Huppert, and one of Anne’s former students, Alexandre, played by Alexandre Tharaud. As her health declines, Anne begins by telling Georges that she doesn’t want anyone to see her. Eventually Anne talks about wanting to die. After that, she loses the ability to speak intelligibly. Georges’ love remains strong and steadfast as he does his best to respect her wishes.
Eva says that her mother should be put in a home to receive professional care, but Georges remains true to his promise to his wife, stipulating that he never do such a thing. In the end, when he can no longer bear to see Anne suffer, he smothers her with a pillow, and it seems like a kindness rather than a murder. It is a subject that the film handles with care and we never see Georges as a killer. Indeed, he is portrayed as sad and merciful.
But that brings us into an examination of a serious and topical subject. In such a situation, is euthanasia an acceptable course of action? Was Georges right or wrong in what he did? And despite appearances, the film takes care to not answer the question. Director Michael Haneke doesn’t apologize for the ending, nor does he aggrandize it. Instead, he leaves it up to the viewers to judge for themselves. You see, after killing his wife, Georges seems to disappear. He arranges her body with care and dignity, and then walks out the front door. We are never told what happens to him, except that it is implied that he never returns home.
Is he fleeing the scene of his crime? Is he wandering off in a sorrowful daze of depression? He obviously doesn’t tell anyone of his wife’s death, something we know because the story is framed by short scenes at the beginning and end. In the beginning, we see police breaking into the house and discovering Anne’s quietly decomposing body. In the end, we see Eve as she tearfully wanders the emptied house.
Trintignant, Riva, and Huppert are the only actors in the film that had any really significant dramatic acting to do. Of the three, Riva was the clear standout. In fact, she was nominated for the Best Actress award for her efforts. She was eighty-five years old at the time, making her the oldest woman to ever be nominated for the category. She lost the award to Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. I’ll be watching that film again soon enough, but based on my admittedly poor memory, I think Riva should have been the winner. The way she portrayed the different stages of her illnesses and debilitating health problems was incredible. Anne’s decline was so believably realistic. I was very impressed with how vulnerable and yet how visceral her stellar performance was. She was simply wonderful. The film, as a whole, was very well made, and I’m glad I watched it, despite the fact that the subject matter was inherently depressing. It was as real as life.