Austrian director Michael Haneke has a reputation for creating solidly unsentimental fare that sometimes tests his audience’s capacity to absorb his particular brand of shock and awe. Never eschewing graphic violence, the director also has mined the regions of psychological terror and internecine conflict to great acclaim. Now in his newest film AMOUR, which is currently taking the Cannes Film Festival by storm, he strikes quite a different note….one that could bring him the coveted Palme d’Or for a second time.
AMOUR is a moving, terrifying and uncompromising drama of extraordinary intimacy and intelligence. The film, which will be translated as LOVE, asks the question what the word means, particularly as we approach the end of our lives. The film brings back to the screen two screen veterans……..Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who give breathtaking performances as Georges and Anne, retired music teachers in their 80s, living in a handsomely furnished Paris apartment. Their lives are content and happy, until Anne suffers the first of a series of strokes which paralyses one arm, making playing the piano impossible, accompanied by progressive dementia. As Anne’s life ebbs away, so does her identity and the relationship that has been ballast for her long admiring husband. His decision to keep her at home rather than place her in a nursing home worsens his already difficult relationship with his grown-up musician daughter Eva (the great Isabelle Huppert) and her new husband Geoff (William Shimell).
Haneke delves into the deep emotional territory of pent-up anger and long-festering resentment that cripples all involved. While the older couple try to continue a vestige of their old, happy life, it becomes increasingly more difficult as Anne slips further and further into her own world. Haneke is able to be completely specific about this very particular intellectual world of the Parisian bourgeoisie, while also being universal in its humanistic tone and message. Resisting the easy answer or the unearned resolution, the director plays the film like a chamber orchestra, where each movement becomes more and more intensified, until there is finally a rupture, followed by a reconciliation. The film’s stellar acting and its resounding message will not only serve it well at Cannes, where it received a thunderous standing ovation, but in its release in the United States later this year via Sony Pictures Classics.