Georges and Anne are a Parisian couple in their early 80’s who have led rich, cultured lives. Retired music and piano teachers, the couple is introduced to us at a concert hall where they watch Anne’s former pupil as the featured soloist. Director Haneke is known for not using soundtracks or scores in his films, so the sparse opening chords of the soloist’s playing set a mood of rarified appreciation and beauty.
Those feelings of calm pleasure are interrupted when the couple returns home to find someone has tried to break into their apartment. “They used a screwdriver or something like that…it doesn’t look very professional…” comments Georges. He convinces Anne to wait until morning to call the superintendent. Anne retires to the bedroom without a nightcap, clearly still shaken but commenting with pride on how well her former prodigy had played.
Later that night, Georges awakens to Anne sitting up straight in bed, staring into space. Although she insists all is well, a similar incident the next morning at breakfast catapults the film into the shock, heartache and trials of caregiving for a spouse who has suddenly taken very ill.
Terrified by hospitals, Anne comes home in a wheelchair after her first “attack” still cognitively bright and full of pride. She makes Georges promise never to make her go back to a hospital again, a difficult discussion that for so many couples is often left until an emergency occurs.
As Anne’s condition deteriorates, the couple’s bonds become strained. Without the use of emotional theatrics, Haneke leads us through the icy shards of life’s winter with crushing reality: the awkwardness of friends and relatives visiting, the ups and downs of in home nurses, the humiliation of helplessness, incontinence and loss of cognition. It seems to be hinted that Georges himself is suffering from an early stage of dementia, although it’s never mentioned. Then again, distraction, memory lapses, terrifying dreams and even mild hallucinations could just as easily be attributed to his world crumbling around him.
Their grown daughter and her British husband are also professional musicians living abroad, constantly travelling with their music company. They have an estranged relationship with their grown son, a strained relationship with each other, and their visits feel stressful. It is difficult to sympathize with the daughter at times, but her flawed character too seems of a piece with Haneke’s brilliant use of understatement.
Amour won Haneke his second Palme d’Or in four years, and the film has won or been nominated for dozens of awards worldwide, including the 2013 Oscars for Best Achievement in Directing, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year (Austria), Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Emmanuelle Riva (Anna), and Best Writing–Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (Haneke). Riva, a career actress since 1957, is the first woman that Haneke has directed in a film to be nominated for an Oscar. Her performance, as well as that of Jean-Louis Trintignant, powerfully embodies a wide range of states, emotions, and flashbacks to healthier times.
Palliative care, a spouse slipping away, and other raw takes on aging are rarely the main focus of cinema. Indeed, Amour offers perhaps the most highbrow appearances of adult diapers and mobility aids ever to have taken center stage on the silver screen—refreshingly without flinching or masking with humor.
A resource that may have (retroactively) eased the experience of protagonist Georges, whose coping mechanisms went heart deep but lacked in preparedness, is aptly named PREPARE. This user-friendly website helps walk individuals and families through the steps to make sure their wishes are kept should they become too ill to speak for themselves.
These were my strongest impressions after having left the theater: life is both long and short, lovely and repulsive, lonely and shared and, above all, to be lived to its fullest: with amour.
Mary Otte is a staff writer for www.Parentgiving.com.