There is a moment near the end of Amour when an action takes place, and we can't exactly put our finger on why it happened. People will give obvious answers to why it was done. Sometimes our actions are unexplainable; they are without a need or definition of why things are supposed to happen. It's hard to accept things that aren't explicitly black and white—even when it comes to love.
Amour, directed by Michael Haneke, part of this year's Santa Fe Film Festival, won't make it's way here again until next year. If you have a chance to see it elsewhere, take it. This is the best film of the year for many reasons.
First and foremost, this isn't a very uplifting picture. The first moments of the film have the fire department crashing into this apartment, smelling the room, only to find the corpse of a woman, covered in flowers. This image sets the tone.
What happens in the next two hours, is the emotional and physical turmoil of what Anne (Emmanuel Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a married couple, go through in dealing with their old age. Anne starts to suffer mental lapses. Her condition worsens and a promise is made: She never wants to go back to the hospital. Thus, Georges takes it upon himself to nurse his own wife.
Haneke is at the height of his directorial powers. Both Jean-Louis and Riva give some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking performances this year. The performance of Riva alone and the things she had to subject herself to are awards-caliber, if not simply and completely courageous. Their interaction is not only completely believable, but there was this interesting chemistry that made it seem like they had spent a lifetime together. Not to leave Jean-Louis out of this, he too gives a very caring but instinctual performance. His eyes and expressions tell everything. His performance reminds me a lot of Chishu Ryu in Tokyo Story: a husband not sure how to deal with his emotions. Eye-opening and gut wrenching.
This is where my bias sets in. Haneke's style of directing is a very straightforward, almost Ozu-like style of filmmaking. His camera is objective in filming the interactions of people and events. He lets the audience decide the facts on the screen. Because of this, the camera isn't very active, but is rather a static camera. We sit on one scene for a good ten or fifteen minutes alone. No cuts. This can be hard for an audience to take. It's definitely not everyone's cup of tea.
However, in this sense, Haneke is also keen on letting the audience come up with the facts on the screen. This is seen greatly in his 2008 film, Cache, where a mysterious person films a family. Thus, I was curious to see how he would lend this distinctive auteurism into Amour. Haneke did not disappoint.
The moments are what make this film the best of the year. But the way in which Haneke gets to these moments also needs recognition. While it might seem like he's filming mundane things, he's also getting to the core of why human's do what they do. The characters walk slow. They take time to do these things. Yet, this is how human's interact. Regular life isn't fast-pace. Because of the quiet moments that showcase basic human interaction, the bigger moments are revealed and taken to their fullest potential. A dream sequence. Clipping of some flowers. Listening to some music. Paintings on the wall. Capturing a bird. We can appreciate these moments because of the world that Haneke has immersed us in. Yes, this is a sad film. But it's also a sentimental one.
There is one thing that I caught on this first viewing of Amour: a subtle interaction between characters and water. Water signals different events in this film, from the beginning to the end. There are points where it doesn't signal much, but others where it's use is shocking. This might be the one thing that I loved most about the film. Haneke uses it brilliantly. It's not overt and, quite honestly, I might have missed a few of the times water was used. But the question is why. I believe it's because water is something that we need in our lives and can consume whatever is immersed in it. I'm reminded of the dream sequence again: I sure as hell don't know what it means. But I'm more than happy that Haneke gave me the chance to wonder.