ld age,” Bette Davies reportedly said, “ain’t no place for sissies.” And neither, perhaps, is true love. Or so it is in Michael Haneke’s Amour, an intrepid reflection on just what it might take to see both old age and genuine romantic love through to the end of the line. Haneke wrote and directed this film and cast Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva to play Georges and Anne, retired music teachers in their 80s.
They have a daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), who is also involved in the music world. But while she has public success, Eva has not been able to recreate for herself the marital love that she knows exist between her parents, Georges and Anne. She is resigned to this fact and although she appears just a few times in the film, her unfulfilling marriage emphasizes what her parents were fortunate to find and possess for so long.
One suspects that in their old age, Anne and Georges are satisfied with the simple joys of each other’s company, content in the ordinary details that fill their days—talking, reading, eating together. Their last night together in this cozy world is spent at a concert of Anne’s former student. The two return to their apartment, chatting like the best friends they surely are with Georges even flirting with his wife. Later that night, he wakes to see Anne is restless. And in the morning, she has the first episode that signals the beginning of their end. The rest of the film depicts Anne’s decline as Georges loyally and, with one brief painful exception, patiently tends to her.
In Amour, Haneke has written dialogue that is unembellished, natural, and delivered superbly by Trintignant and Riva. In addition to the magnificent acting of the two, Haneke’s film relies on cinematography that encourages the audience to slowly take in the setting of the apartment (which never becomes claustrophobic even as it becomes their only world) and to even sit along with Georges, as he reflects on and observes what is occurring with his wife and him. Fortunately for us, Trintignant and Riva possess a rapport, and this helps the audience to understand that since their characters were incredibly lucky in love, Georges is compelled to uphold the spoken and unspoken promises made to his wife as she becomes increasingly ill. He will not send her to a nursing home. In a nice touch from Haneke, even as Anne becomes unable to communicate in coherent sentences, Georges still understands what she is attempting to say even if Eva (and the audience) are unable to do so. Anne seems to know this about George which will lead to the film’s conclusion.
Marriage is a dance and Haneke shows this brilliantly throughout Amour. For instance, music is an important component of the film, and its absence from in the scenes where Georges is physically assisting Anne in and out of her wheelchair—which resembles a dance of determination between the two—underscores the simple fact there exists no need to serenade these two lovers any longer. Their dance—has it been a half-century or more?—is nearly over. Anne has one foot in the grave, as suggested by her partial paralysis, and while she suffers, she also waits patiently for George to summon the courage to let her go. We hear her increasing refrain of “hurts…hurts….hurts,” which we finally understand Anne is saying so as to encourage Georges to keep his final promise to her.
Amour, thankfully, gives us neither a prolonged ending nor moralizing of what has transpired. As Eva walks through her parents’ apartment after they are gone, we are consoled by the fact that life, despite what we may have won and lost in its lottery, continues without us. Dances will continue.