30 Best Films of the Decade, 2010-2019–Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012), Starring Emmanuelle Riva and Jean Louis Trintignant

Watching Together Good Films While Physically Apart

For purposes of simplicity, my 30 great movies of the past decade are presented alphabetically.  They reflect my taste, as I look back, and as such they are inevitably singular (and biased). No need to agree with my filmic hierarchy, but as one of my roles as a critic is to expose readers to films that they might not have seen upon initial release, or wish to revisit.

All the films are available on DVD, some via streaming.

A Separation (Iran, 2011)  See our review yesterday.

Amour (French, 2012)

A chamber piece for two well-drawn characters, played by two superlative actors, Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, Michael Haneke’s Amour contests, challenges and then redefines some personal and cultural perceptions of  love, marriage, aging, illness, and dying.

Haneke’s most intimate film to date, Amour (“Love”) could not have been more different than his previous film, the stark, bleak black-and-white period piece, “The White Ribbon,” which grabbed the Palme d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Fest and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

World-premiering at the 2012 Cannes Film Fest (In Competition), the tough, demanding, but ultimately compelling and rewarding Amour will be released in the U.S. by Sony Classics.

The film should attract upscale audiences and older fans of the supremely gifted international stars Jean-Louis Trintignant (“And God Created Woman, ” “A Man and a Woman,” “Z,” among others) and Emmanuelle Riva (the seminal New Wave title, “Hiroshima mon amour”).

Please read our review of Hiroshima mon amour.

Leaving behind his famously icy, detached, stark and austere approach, evident in such great films as “Funny Games,” Cache,” or “The White Ribbon,” Haneke has made one of his softest, gentlest, most touching and comeplling films, a chronicle of the final months in the life of a long-time, happily married couple.

With the exception of one, early scene, in which the old couple attends a concerts, this intensely observed drama is largely confined to the intereriors of a luxurious Parisian apartment, the residence of Anne and Georges.

In a pre-credit prologue scene, representatives of the police and fire departments burst into this apartment to reveal the corpse of an elderly woman, surrounded by white flowers. But the ensuing narrative doesn’t follow the logic of a thriller, or a mystery regarding the fate of the old woman, with questions like who’s responsible for her demise? Is there any crime involved?

In the next two hours, Haneke dissects in a seemingly simple but subtle, sharply observed manner the everyday life of an upper-class, culturally refined couple who has been married for decades and thus know each other’s habits and quirks inside out.

Following a chronological order, the straightforward, realistic narrative is linear in depicting the gradual decline of the physical and mental faculties of Anne, (Riva), a refined woman, still beautiful in her 80s. Having suffered a series of strokes, which force her into a wheelchair and then into immobility in bed, she becomes utterly dependent on her kind and genteel husband Georges (Trintignant).

Early on, Anne asks her hubby to make her one promise, “Please do not send me back to the hospital.” He concurs—at a price, as we later find out the consequences to this commitment.

With “Love,” like with the rest of his work, Haneke not only tests and contests societal norms of old age, fatal illness, and dying, but also his viewers’ level of expectations, their degree of patience and endurance. Bewarned: with its deliberate pacing, claustrophobic feel, and meticulous attention to detail, “Love” is not an easy watch on any level.

Indeed, by necessity, “Love” is a step by step, minute by minute, dissection of a woman’s inevitable deterioration of all her faculties, biological, physical, mental, and emotional–to the point where she ceases to be a responsive human being.

The couple is completely isolated from the outside world, except for a few intrusions by their daughter (Isabelle Huppert, a regular in Haneke’s films), who lives with her husband in London, and represents here the more “objective” and ironic “voice of reason.” It goes without saying that there are basic disagreements between her and her father on how to deal with Anne’s fatal illness.

In the course of the text, Haneke raises the relevant questions of euthanasia, institutionalization, marital (spousal and domestic) responsibilities and duties to your partner as well as to yourself, and perhaps most impoartant of all, the very possibility of dying with dignity and self-respect. These are all controversial, culturally loaded themes that most people have to face and make fateful decisions about, because society doesn’t provide easy—or any—solutions to them.

It’s a testament to Haneke’s skills as a writer and director that “Love” raises these questions without offering any answers, and what’s more, without making any value judgements about the conduct and decisions that his portagonists “choose” to pursue.

It may be too early, but let me just say that, if there’s any justice, Riva should received a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Credits

Production companies: Les Films du Losange, X Filme Creative Pool, Wega Film
Co-Production: France 3 Cinéma, ARD Degeto, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Westdeutscher Rundfunk
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, Alexandre Tharaud, William Shimell
Director and writer: Michael Haneke
Producers: Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz
Director of photography: Darius Khondji
Production designer: Jean-Vincent Puzos
Costumes: Catherine Leterrier
Editors: Monika Willi, Nadine Muse
Music: Schubert, Beethoven, Bach played by Alexandre Tharaud

Running time: 127 minutes