Thursday, December 20, 2012
Powerful, at times wrenching as it plays out, Michael Haneke's Palme D'Or-winning "Amour," about the ravages of partial paralysis and stroke-induced cognitive degeneration on an elderly woman and the husband she's spent her life with, lacks lasting resonance when you realize how little you know about them as people after spending more than two hours with them.
The roles of Anne and Georges are filled by two actors from the golden era of movies, Emmanuelle Riva of "Hiroshima Mon Amour" and the once-ubiquitous Jean-Louis Trintignant, whose dignified and expressive face holds our attention and allows us to remain engaged during the film's quieter and more repetitive passages.
Anne had been a piano teacher, and early in "Amour" we see her and Georges at a recital by one of her successful students, now a concert pianist and recording artist, who drops by their Paris apartment some weeks later to drop off a CD and finds much has happened in the interim, none of it good. Georges also receives well-meaning visits from the landlord and landlady, and from his daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who thinks he's taking on too heavy a load by himself.
Haneke's style is one of understatement and unflinching lack of sentiment. Extremely difficult situations are presented without sensationalism, but also without pity. After Anne passes the breaking point in terms of brain function, you'll search in vain for a connection as small as a shared glance between Riva and Trintignant. But she also has one or two moments of clarity, as when she thumbs through an old photo album and says, "It's beautiful." "What is?" George asks. "Life," she replies, "long life."
Haneke apparently couldn't decide between four or five ways to end the movie, so he used all of them. There's the death scene itself, which threatens to take the movie in a totally different direction than it had been traveling. Then there's the scene of Georges writing out his final thoughts in a letter to Eva. Then there's a scene involving a wayward pigeon that Georges traps in the apartment, the symbolism of which I confess was lost on me. Then there's the fantasy scene in which Georges sees Anne suddenly as she was at the beginning, and the two walk out of the apartment together. Finally, there's the scene of Eva alone in the vacant apartment, where we're supposed to feel the emptiness. Frankly, we've seen almost all of these before - but not the pigeon.