Michael Haneke’s Amour begins with firemen breaking into an apartment and discovering the corpse of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), lying on the bed with flowers scattered around her head. We then go back to the night of a Schubert concert and the stroke which Anne has during breakfast the following morning, which leaves her paralyzed down the right side of her body. As Anne’s condition deteriorates, her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), respecting her wishes not to be returned to the hospital or placed in a nursing home, takes care of her himself.
Amour is a film of heart-wrenching potency rarely seen; a truly moving experience shot with quiet lyricism. It’s refreshing to see Haneke shift his attention away from the uncomfortable subject matter of violence and deception and show a level of sensitivity in human nature without ever sinking into sentimentality. He might not be the cynical pessimist his body of work up until now seemed to suggest.
This is incredibly powerful and engaging cinema – Haneke’s films are often coldy detached, as if placing responsibility for forming moral judgements on the audience, but with Amour we’re invited into the elderly couple’s apartment as silent companions to witness an unflinching portrayal of the interplay of love and death in the last days of a person’s life. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver two of the best performances of the year, sublimely affecting and utterly authentic.
Back in 2009 Haneke won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with his dark study of a provincial German town in The White Ribbon, and once again he’s picked up the award for Amour. Few other directors are this deserving, and it’s particularly fitting that his second Palme d’Or goes to a film which proves beyond all doubt that he’s capable of shifting away from the bleak and the disturbing to show us something about the human condition which is sad yet undeniably beautiful.