Top Ten Movies of 2012 — Number Two

2amour

Michael Haneke’s Amour is about death. An elderly couple living in Paris go from a quiet, comfortable life together to a shared existence defined almost entirely by the deterioration of one of them, a progression from health to physical decrepitude that is virtually guaranteed to any person who lasts long enough. This unpleasant transformation can happen in what seems like the blink of an eye or, more accurately, the flicker of a malfunctioning heart. Over the breakfast table, Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) simply stops at one point, freezes mid-conversation, reemerging from stasis a minute or two later to the worried shock of her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). She has had a stroke, and it is quite literally the beginning of the end. The remainder of the film tracks her slow, painful descent, the excruciating journey portrayed with fearless commitment by Riva. The loving home becomes a prison for both parties, Georges unable to leave his wife even long enough to retrieve groceries, the simple chore farmed out to a helpful neighbor. They are as trapped as a pigeon who flies through the window, with no capability of finding its way out without assistance. Haneke traces this all with his trademark attentiveness, every detail rendered with the deepest of care.

But Amour, as the title announces, is ultimately about love. It’s the love that inspires dedication, worry, commitment and eventually determination when the hardest of choices arises. It is about standing by someone until it is unbearable to do so, until the last vestiges of that person have been eradicated. It is about watching someone suffer because modern medicine is developed enough to preserve life, but not enough to make that life worth living. Haneke reportedly crafted the film because he saw family members go through a similar situation with an aged, ailing loved one. It is a commonplace story rarely told, relegated to the safety of willful social ignorance. The Austrian director is uncompromising in his depiction, not out of a sadism (as some have foolishly accused), but instead a compulsion towards honesty, towards sharing the hard truth of human existence because that level of understanding can be its own redemption. Amour is intensely powerful because Haneke chooses not to look away, and challenges the viewer to do the same. It’s something that must be seen in fiction if there’s any hope of enduring it when its seen, as it will be for most, in reality.

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