“Imagine if we were lying in bed and someone was to break in. I’d die of fright,” says an elderly Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) to George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) one night as they return home from a piano recital to find their front door tampered with. This moment of vulnerability is made all the more tragic as we have only just seen a number of firemen break open a door to find Anne’s body lying dead on her bed surrounded by petals; these are the opening moments of Michael Haneke’s heartbreaking new film Amour.
The narrative of the film begins at the very end of Anne and George’s relationship and then tenderly revisits moments in their final years together as Anne’s health begins to drastically decline after a number of debilitating strokes. They are both piano teachers who have a deep enjoyment of high culture, as is shown in their ownership of a grand piano and many walls of books. The story plays out in their beautiful Parisian apartment, the camera only leaving once in order to show a long static shot of a theatre full of smartly dressed upper-middle class people waiting patiently for a recital. The rest of the film is set entirely within their home, being shown in long and static, beautiful and calm frames that are incredibly peaceful and tender.
Haneke leaves the camera on his subject for as long as he needs to, as he always has, allowing the audience to really absorb the tenderness or powerlessness that is being portrayed in his scenes. By the end of the film their apartment feels so familiar that you feel as if you have lived there for as long as they have. The cinematography and visual long-shot length are mostly kept at a distance in order to present the action as if a stage play. This technical device allows the occasional close up to have so much intimacy as the awful realisation slowly creeps upon both characters as the inevitable draws closer.
The performances given by both of the heavyweight actors are incredible, especially the weakening Anne whom is slowly losing her mental and physical faculties and having to rely more on George for all her basic needs, much to both of their frustration. The final act of Love of which the title refers is such an explosive and breathtaking act that it leaves you in a state of detached shock that only lets you fully reflect on it during the deafening silence of the credits. A haunting and tragic masterpiece.