Michael Haneke has now both passed his seventieth birthday and finds himself beyond the biblical three score and ten that, increased life expectancy notwithstanding, still marks a watershed of human existence. This far one can reasonably expect to come. What’s beyond is the province of circumstance.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that his new film reflects on processes of aging. In Amour, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, Haneke turns his habitually dispassionate eye on an elderly couple, Georges (Jeans-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), domiciled in Paris, with a shared background in classical music.
Early in the film, the couple attends a former pupil’s concert. As they subsequently discuss the event, it’s almost as if a conductor is with them, baton poised to monitor their muted exchange of appropriate comments. This is how Georges and Anne live: according to the dictates of care and restraint. Haneke’s abiding fascination with control is never more comprehensively explored than here in a film that builds on the principle of expressive discipline, both in its subject matter and its execution.
As Anne begins to suffer episodes of mental absence compounded by a stroke, the couple’s carefully arranged life faces the greatest of all challenges: the prospect of a messy death. Georges insists on caring for Anne at home, keeping the calm as she grows increasingly disturbed, channeling visits from their daughter (Isabelle Huppert), caretakers, cleaners and ex-pupil into a flow of sparse dialogue and encounters.
Never one to accede to expectations, however, Haneke undercuts his directorial focus on control in the two scenes that bookend the film, demonstrating that although love has nothing to do with protestations of passion it can demand complete abandon of a different kind.
Amour | (France, Germany, Austria 2012) Directed by Michael Haneke, with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert. Starts September 20