If I had watched this film no less than 5 years ago, I'd probably wouldn't think too much about Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winning Amour, which made him one of an elite group of filmmakers who had won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival at least twice (and within a span of three years too). But I suppose having to live through some of life's experiences, both pleasant and those that are not, would have opened up one's horizons, connect and identify with the many elements about terminal illness and suffering, love and the quality of life, being affected in more ways that I would have normally allowed.
As in most of the Austrian filmmaker's movies, this film centers around the characters of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly couple whom we see are enjoying the twilight of their lives, and their companionship with each other, since daughter Eva (Isabelle Huppert) is away overseas most of the time. Unfortunately Anne suffers a stroke and more, rendering her paralyzed on one side, gradually relying on the primary care provided by Georges to get through day by day. And given Georges' age, being primary caregiver is also something of a challenge, and a stress both mentally and physically, having made a vow to Anne that he is adamant in keeping, of having no further hospital visits, or to put her in a home.
The many things that Haneke had put into his film are the hard truths revolving around the dedicated attention given to the patient, from things like feeding and the changing of diapers, doing the household chores which include enlisting the help of others in grocery shopping, to hardware requirements like the commode or the adjustable bed. There may be a certain level of shyness involved during cleaning up, and in every step of the way you want to maintain the dignity of the patient, because the last thing you want to do is to have a drop of morale. The deterioration is painful to witness, as Eva goes from having strength to being completely bedridden, with the ability of communication, a very key thing, taken away when speech impairment rears its ugly head, when therapy can only do so much. Haneke doesn't gloss over the necessary aspects of suffering, even if under the hands of uncaring home nurses, and probably introduced a little tinge of fear as one grows old, gets sick, and get put under the mercy of others.
Georges gets the periodic visits from his daughter, but you can almost feel a distant rift between the two each time they try to sit down and communicate. What Haneke's story and screenplay brilliantly acheived is to be able to say so much without saying much at all, directing the actors to bring out ideas and back-channel communication through their acting craft, making it a very fulfilling experience watching, and dissecting the human relations and condition in each of the characters, even when Eva had to spend most of her time in bed, and portraying the limited range of emotions a stroke patient can muscle together. Perhaps I too felt some guilt each time Eva returns home to check on the latest status of her mom and dad, as it mirrors how I would have loved to be able to do more, if not for modern day commitments, or what we would like to think of as commitments.
Being a Haneke film, we'd come to know some darker moments to sort of jump through when we least expected, especially so when the title is one as benign as Love in its many forms. While what was shocking wasn't something narratively new in films done by others, it still made one heck of an impact, lingering for some time which I thought was quite wicked, leaving things rich and open to post-screening debate. Haneke makes you work to come up with your interpretation of events, never telling you verbose details unnecessary to spoonfeed, preferring that you experience and take away something from it, though this was perhaps one of his less obtuse works.
What made this film was also the performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who hardly put in a wrong foot. Trintignant returns to the big screen after an absence of 7 years, with a role specifically written for him, which he duly delivered. His Georges came across as heartbroken and exasperated rolled into one. Emmanuelle Riva may seem to have gotten the easier role having to be in bed, and sometimes absent for the most parts as Georges keeps her Anne locked away, but credit to her fine acting without having the need to over-act or over-compensate for the condition she has to flesh out. The make up department also deserves mention for being able to realistically age her on screen as well.
Amour continues in its winning of the minds of various critics and chalking up awards in the festival circuit, as well as year end accolades. It should be interesting if it does culminate in walking away with the Best Foreign Language Film oscar statuette next year. Recommended!