Every so often I see a critically acclaimed film that I admire enormously but simultaneously detest. Recent examples include We need to talk about Kevin and Killing Them Softly. Amour is another example of that particularly tricky beast – a film only a critic could love.
To be fair, I expected not to like this one going in, as director Michael Haneke hasn’t made a film I actually enjoyed with the exception of Cache (Hidden). However, he is an extremely talented filmmaker and Amour is a typically provocative piece. It concerns the final stages in the lives of an elderly couple in Paris, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emanuelle Riva). Both are lovers of music, literature and the arts in general, and have had a long and happy marriage. However, their love is put to the ultimate test when Anne is paralysed on one side and develops dementia. Georges insists on looking after her himself, because Anne doesn’t want to go back to the hospital.
What follows is an unrelenting journey into misery. But it’s a very well-acted, well-directed unrelenting journey into misery, hence the critical kudos. For much of the running time, the message seems to be that the true test of love is not whether or not you make it to old age with your partner, but whether or not you can endure the final stages, which could be an emotional and physical ordeal. In that sense, Amour is about the potential price of love and a lifelong happy marriage. It is a stripped-down, fiercely unsentimental work that spares the audience nothing.
SPOILER WARNING: Of course, the misery wouldn’t be complete without addressing the contentious topic of assisted suicide, and frankly Amour ultimately amounts to an argument in favour. Whilst I have nothing but the utmost sympathy for people in such ghastly situations, I still cannot in good conscience ever condone such action being made legal, however understandable it may be in individual cases, for reasons I shan’t detail in this review.
Because the film effectively constitutes such an argument, one that many will doubtless find convincing, I cannot endorse it morally or spiritually. That aside, Amour is a brilliantly made but deeply depressing piece of work that I admire especially for the strong performances. But nothing would ever induce me to watch it again.