There comes a point in life when we reconcile ourselves to the fact that there will be a last time for everything – the last time we will see someone or go somewhere, the last time we’ll make love, the last holiday we’ll take. Our time is fixed, and eventually, exhausted. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) begins with such endings.
Anne and Georges (played by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant), attend a recital at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées by Anne’s former piano student, Alexandre (played by French pianist Alexandre Tharaud). Haneke lets the shot linger on the expansive audience, giving us time to spot Anne and Georges among them, part of the scheme of things. After the concert they catch a crowded tram home to their beautiful, simple Paris apartment. “Did I mention you look very pretty this evening?” Georges charmingly asks Anne. They are lovely.
This proves to be their last evening with some semblance of normality; the next morning over breakfast, Anne suffers a stroke. A subsequent operation to remove a blockage in her carotid artery results in Anne being paralysed down her right side. She is wheelchair bound, and ashamed of it. She tells Georges this is no way to live, but he is stubbornly persistent in his care.
Georges reassures their daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert), “we’ve always coped, your mother and I.” Eva recalls hearing Georges and Anne making love when she was little, finding their act of love a comfort, “I knew we’d always be together.”
Their love for each other is evident in newer intimacies: when Georges helps Anne from her wheelchair, they put the tips of their toes together and embrace, moving as one entity. As Georges puppets Anne’s paralysed leg for her exercises, the two breathe heavily in the movements, evoking the closeness of another time. One morning, Anne peruses old photo albums. “It’s beautiful,” she whispers. “What?” Georges asks. “Life. So long… long life.”
Anne suffers a second stroke, rendering her unable to move or speak. Anne’s dignity seeps away as Georges needs to change her diapers and help the nurse to shower her. “No one needs to see that,” he tells Eva. Georges tries to help her speech with singing, when they try to sing French folk song Sur le Pont D’Avignon, Anne gets frustrated in her struggle to articulate pont (bridge), so Georges, his voice breaking, serenades her, “sur le Pont d’Avignon , l’on y danse tous en rond…”
Georges sees a vision of Anne at her piano, perfectly competent and beautiful. The memory is painful. He turns the CD player off, and stares at the lonely grand piano, a relic of a life already lived. From here, there can only be endings.
Amour is beautifully crafted, it’s message subtly explicated. It is not depressing, it is not intended to instill fear. It is to speak to those harder facets of life we try to ignore: suffering, loss, grief and death. When one is confined to these states it seems the rest of the world forgets. Even Eva is still caught up in what people think of her philandering husband, or where she should invest her money or buy a house. The reality at last settles in, and she breaks.
“What happens now?” Eva asks Georges. He rehearses the trivialities – trying to force a reluctant Anne to eat, changing her diapers… But he knows this is not what Eva is asking. “What happens now, is what has happened until now. It will go steadily downhill for a while and then it will be over.”
I have witnessed the decline of a life such as Anne’s with my own grandmother, and found Amour painfully reminiscent. While I don’t need to see such suffering articulated on a screen to be converted to the cause for Euthanasia, others do. It is easy to make moral judgments when the brutal reality some are reduced to is absent from your existence. I guess they’re the lucky ones.