Cannes Review: In ‘Amour,’ the Agony and Beauty of Enduring Love

Michael Haneke's film about a couple's love amid tragedy is already considered an Oscar contender for foreign language film 

Last Updated: May 20, 2012 @ 8:18 AM

When you really love someone for a lifetime, it transcends every other kind of love.  Romantic love comes nowhere near it. It is a bond so strong, in fact, that nothing can deter you from doing whatever needs to be done for the one you love. You will endure any test put in front of you, gladly, for a few minutes with your beloved.

But the simple fact is that life ends. We are born dying, and the time we have now is everything. We prepare to say goodbye to those we love most deeply, and that is where the agony of life lies. The agony of something so exquisitely beautiful — a thing that flies in your window like a tiny miracle but can't last, isn't even meant to. How do we make it through all of this loss? We make it through because of the connections we have to others.

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There wasn't a dry eye in the Lumiere for Michael Haneke's absolutely brilliant "Amour."  No coughing, no walkouts. The room was hushed as the film unfolded one incidental conversation at a time. This was a movie about people talking to each other. You'd think a movie like this would be boring, and yet you care deeply about the people on screen because you feel as though you're living their life with them. As a man cares for his wife who is slowly dying, every tiny moment between them feels precious, essential, like it can't be skipped over.

Written and directed by Haneke, this French film is probably headed straight for Oscar's foreign language race, where it will likely win. That is, unless some silly procedural error derails its chances. It will be, along with a few other films here in Cannes, one of the best films of the year. The film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, and Emmanuelle Riva as his wife, Anne.  Isabelle Huppert plays their very busy daughter.

The film opens with the couple returning from a film. A joke is made about how making love would be a nightmare for them now. Georges tells Anne how beautiful she looks. Life proceeds in its ordinary fashion, though there is no TV blaring in another room to fill the quiet.

They wake up together, eat breakfast together, takes walks together and genuinely enjoy one another's company. Each listens intently to what the other is saying. It's clear from the outset that what has held them so tightly together their whole lives is their deep friendship.

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One morning, Anne can't speak to Georges. She simply stares into space blankly for several minutes before coming around. After that, it's a slow decline. First, the left half of her body is paralyzed. Then she has a stroke and is bed-ridden.

Through it all, Georges cares tenderly for Anne in a way you would only do for that person you love beyond yourself. It's as simple as that. How much easier to have her put into a hospital, where others could endure the humiliating moments of wetting herself and having to wear diapers and eat baby food. How easy it would be to leave her nightly moaning to others to soothe or ignore. But Georges doesn't. It has always been the two of them, and he isn't about to abandon her.

Half of it is Georges' duty as a husband and friend. But the other half is the more unbearable one — he can't let her go. He is holding onto her because his life is nothing without her. As we watch this play out, it becomes clear where it's headed. But that doesn't make it any less moving. Haneke keeps the conversations driving the film with little of his usual visual flourish.  It's a film that will make you start thinking about the ones you love, and those you've lost.

But to be the one being cared for, and to watch the one you love have to take care of you, is probably even more painful. Georges faces down death with clarity. He and Anne lived long, fulfilling lives together. They were lucky that way — lucky to have found each other, lucky to have had that life to share, all those casual meaningless conversations that mean the world when they cease.  "You are sometimes a monster," his wife says to him. "But you are kind."

"Amour" is a film about love and life and all of the tragedies and miracles we stumble upon while we're here. A great artist can permanently change the lens on your vision. Haneke has done that here. He has taken an all-embracing word and explained it plainly, brilliantly with the same delicate magic of capturing a wild thing that has flown through your window.  You don't think you can do it, or that you should do  it. But it doesn't take long for the answer to become wholly clear — when the time comes to take a fleeting moment of control over an unwieldy universe.