I have admired some of Michael Haneke’s films (especially The White Ribbon and The Piano Teacher) because he explores dark, emotional spaces with startling authenticity and skill.
These films suggest emotional truths with so much particularity that words alone or stagecraft or music or any other art form I can think of could not achieve the same level of exploration presented onscreen in these stories. Haneke uses all the elements of film in careful combination to maximize the potential of the medium.
Amour is a startling love story, but it really shouldn’t be. Romantic love has many stages and facets, and Haneke, characteristically, chooses to shed light on the type of story that has not been told in many films – what might happen to two people deeply and companionably in love over many years when the aging process suddenly catches up with them.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuella Riva are exquisite, living their parts in every frame. But, I don’t feel sorry for these characters. Compassion, yes, but not pity, and that may be as much the way Haneke tells the story as my own thoughts about the meaning of life (I don’t really mean to sound so lofty, but there it is). There is no way around it; some things must be accepted.
Amour works for me aesthetically – there is no conventional score (though diegetic music plays an important role); except for one scene, the couple’s apartment is the only location (which works thematically to showcase their physical limitations); and, the camera is used in ways that make us voyeurs (static shots, frequent views through doorways, few close-ups, relatively few cuts, eye-level angles). The spare nature of the visual elements and cinematic sound make the experience feel unmediated (though, of course, this is just another style), which foregrounds the subtlety of Trintignant and Riva’s performances.
Since my Film Theory and Criticism class will see Hiroshima, Mon Amour next week (the film that launched Riva’s career in 1959 and a favorite of mine), it seemed an appropriate outing to trek from campus to a/perture to see Amour last evening. Ten students were able to make it, and we’ve engaged in pleasant and sometimes robust email exchanges about the film since then.
Their insights about the symbolism of the pigeon that flies into the apartment and about water and windows has enhanced my own experience of the film, and I hope to hear from more of them about their responses to Amour today.
I love the movies and teaching, so I must have the best job (for me) in the world…what a blessing…something about life that is easy to accept and with gratitude.