This film is called Love, though it uses a French word that is easy enough for even Americans to say, Amour, so we will call it that. Since the film is a picture of love at life’s end and to review it will also be to discuss what love looks like, calling the film by its French name will also clarify our discussion.
Amour features a husband and wife, Georges and Anne, at the end of life. They live alone together in their Parisian apartment. Anne suffers a series of medical catastrophes which incrementally dehabilitate her from confusion to frailty to immobility to incomprehensibility to death. Georges takes care of her as she goes.
Amour is clinical, matter-of-fact, and unsparing in its depiction of the process of dying. Anne’s slow death is painful for her as well as for her family and acquaintances. Everyone suffers, even the audience, as we are forced to accept the fact that this, or some prolonged or abbreviated variation of it, is the fate that awaits us all. Because of death, Amour, like love, is painful.
But Amour is also replete with grace, and to discuss it, I’d like to borrow the metaphor used by the film – water. In Amour, the sound and/or presence of water precedes every incremental pain the characters endure, and, by result, their increased practiced love for one another, their shared grace, as well.
The first drops of grace are felt early as Georges and Anne kid with and care for each other. As her condition worsens, and she loses the ability to care for herself, the drops of grace become a steady stream as he bears responsibility for her and opens himself to the abuse that she would otherwise suffer at the unwitting hands of nurses and family members. By the end, grace is a flood that subsumes them both and includes the audience in its waters.
This grace is present in three parts of this film. First, it is located in the narrative, for Amour is not chiefly a picture of death as much as it is a picture of caring for someone dying. It is called “Love” after all, and to love someone is to stand by them to the end.
Secondly, grace is present in the extraordinary performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as Georges and Anne respectively. They each give such gentle and measured performances. Often, actors (and people in real life, for that matter) suffer and love as if cameras are pointed at them. Trintignant and Riva perform as if they are all alone with no one to impress, not even each other.
Third, Michael Haneke’s cold, clinical direction is itself a grace. Too often, films about death are sentimental, providing “magical” solutions or brief respites just before death so that loved ones can make their amends. In doing so though, these more maudlin films spare us the true terribleness of death, and in so doing, surrender any ability to call us to the high quality of self-sacrifice necessary to patiently love and care for another until death. Amour is graceful, because in showing us the pain of death, it gains the power to show us death’s antidote, love.
When two people commit to one another, as Georges and Anne are committed to one another in marriage, they hope for happiness. They are guaranteed suffering. They promise love.
Indeed, this film called “Love” is ultimately about love. Amour depicts love that is patient, kind, not proud or rude, love that protects, hopes, perseveres. Amour features a love that never fails. Such love is proven in hardship. It is the balm of suffering. Love, if it is true, is the bane of death, for it overpowers and outlasts death, making all things sufferable, all things possible, granting an even better life when the life we know is wasting away.
in the end, Amour‘s death throws a tantrum. It kicks and cries foul like a sore loser. Amour‘s love is quiet and patient, because it knows it has already won.