Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are a couple of retired music teachers in their 80s, who live alone together in their apartment. Their peaceful existence is shattered when Anne suffers a stroke, and her condition only worsens, but Georges promises to never send her back to the hospital, and instead attempts to care for her himself in their home.
Last year I made a list of the 12 movies on the 1001 List that I least wanted to see, and worked my way through most of them (I still haven’t seen Napoleon or Blonde Cobra). Had I made the same quest this year, Amour would have been sat on that list. When it was released a couple of years ago, part of me knew this apparently touching, poignant, intimate drama about what it means to really love someone for such a long time would pretty much definitely make it onto the 1001 Movies list, but I hoped it wouldn’t. You see, it’s not a film I ever really wanted to see. Various people I know described it as moving, and beautiful, but just as many renamed it with titles like Slow Death or Euthanasia: A Love Story. There’s just nothing appealing to me about watching one very old person caring for another very old person in the last stage of their life, and watching the irritation grow as the condition worsens, stubbornly refusing the assistance of any and all others around them. And yet, last Friday evening, after a long week at work, my partner scrolled through the saved films on the TV and stopped at Amour. “You won’t like it,” I said, secretly meaning of course that I wasn’t in the mood to watch it, especially when the likes of Cliffhanger or Revenge of the Nerds are sitting there waiting to be watched too, but I’ve always told her I’ll watch anything she likes if there’s nothing I need to watch, so we ploughed on with Amour. And you know what? It wasn’t terrible.
Sure, my initial apprehension was not unfounded, as watching an elderly couple go through a deeply traumatic experience was not what you’d call a barrel of laughs, and plot-wise it didn’t deviate a great deal from what I expected, but it still wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s absolutely true. Michael Haneke has never been my favourite film-maker, but here he directs with a style borrowed from Yasujirô Ozu, Japanese director of the likes of Tokyo Story, which I liked a great deal. The camera barely moves, simply watching long takes in confined spaces, letting the scenes play out between the characters just as they would in real life. And that’s the key here; the realism. The discovery of Anne’s stroke is believable – mid-conversation at the breakfast table one morning, she simply doesn’t respond to her husband, so he dabs her head with a wet cloth to achieve a response but, when nothing happens, he goes to get dressed to go for help, but whilst out of the kitchen Anne awakes and turns off the tap. That audible cue that she has awoken, whilst the camera is on Georges in the bedroom, is perfect. We know that whilst everything from this point won’t be perfect, at least it’s better than it potentially could have been.
Acting-wise, Riva’s Best Actress Oscar nomination is completely justified, because she is phenomenal. Trintignant, on the other hand, doesn’t quite sell his part to me. It’s difficult, because he doesn’t get to portray a great deal of change in his character, especially not when compares to Riva, so I wasn’t overly enamoured with his work. I also didn’t really believe in the pair as a couple. Georges’ love for his wife was shown more through the actions he was undertaking for her than the way he behaved around her in general. I even didn’t think there was much chemistry between them in the early scenes before the incident.
Not everything plans out exactly as I’d expected. The primary plot does, culminating in pretty much the only way it could, but there are a few unexpected but entirely welcome turns along the way, most specifically involving a dream sequence or two. This was the last film in which I expected a jump scare, which of course makes it all the more effective. I’m not sure what was going on with the pigeon scenes – I was really trying not to ruin the mood, but inside my head I couldn’t stop singing Stop the Pigeon! – and there was one point in which I thought Georges had completely gone insane and it was taking a route down an even darker plot, but for the most part this was fairly straightforward. And that’s why I’m not going to recommend the film. If this is the kind of film you think you’ll like, then chances are you’ve probably already seen it, or my opinion won’t sway you, and that’s fine, but if this film sounds like it isn’t for you, then you’re probably right too. It’s the kind of film, like Blue is the Warmest Colour, where you’re reaction to hearing the premise will inform you as to whether you’ll like it or not. It’s a Ronseal film; it does exactly what it says on the tin, which is to show an old couple dealing with a debilitating illness, and that’s an aspect of life that most people never want to go through, so I don’t particularly want to watch a film about it, regardless of how well made that film may be.
Choose Life 7/10