Scenes from Amour

During my art project of drawing kitchen scenes from movies I became more and more fascinated of Michael Haneke’s 2012 drama AMOUR and the extensive depiction of elderly life in the apartment.

The object

I felt quite a bit an intruder to the very intimate scenes in the aged coupleʼs life. Haneke is skillful in creating a strangely close bond between the spectator and the story, in fact I felt the director showing the story just for me alone. I was the disabled aged woman at the obvious end of my life, those two hours and even now, after four years I still am, a part of me deep inside knows what will finally await for me.

Truth

Amour feels true from the first beginning. Everything relevant is shown, with small fine nuances. One feels like being guided through all the details of a dramatic beautiful painting that has come to life, one can walk through the painting using all the senses and know this is life and this is the end of life, and whatʼs more: this is love.

Living in the apartment

The realistic feeling is made with skillful use of sounds and sights. For instance music is not added at places there would not appear music in reality, we ʻlookʼ into rooms from far by only hearing the people in them. Haneke lets the characters live in the apartment without the spectator following all the time close behind but still lets one be in an uncanny way the one living in the apartment. This is due no doubt to masterly editing and the faultless script.

The characters, Georges and Anne are a pleasant couple, educated folk, they are polite to each other, even after living together for such a long life. They obviously care for each other enormously, enjoy being together, share their individual qualities with interest. And importantly, they understand and respect each otherʼs personality. They have obviously grown together into a satisfactory bond. All these details come to life under the marvelous directional insight where reality, thoughts and past history combine in a unity called individualʼs life.

Symmetry

The very first scene, the outside world bursting forcefully into the flat and finding the remnants of profound love, disturbing the privacy, lets us wait for an interesting two hoursʼ time following other peopleʼs life drama. In the end when the door to the flat opens again by a person from outside world, we are in a state of a shock because we have just seen ourselves in old age. The symmetry of the beginning and the end, the entering, brings musical poetry into the movie. This method of symmetry is repeated again and again in the course of the movie: the water rippling from the faucet, the door breaking by the police and the burglars, the open hall window arresting the pigeon and Anne, and that same light shaft window being the only connection to inner feelings out there for both Georges and Anne. The flowers brought in by the visitor and then Georges, they are flowers for death. Carefully created symmetry appears everywhere, even when Georges hangs his coat in the beginning and takes it on when leaving in the end. There are the paintings hanging on the walls, they correspond with the painting-like scenes in Anneʼs and Georgesʼs existence. How beautiful is Anneʼs figure lying in her bed, old and feeble! Pastel colored clothing, lighted from the window, it compares to classic paintings with adorable young, vibrant reclining women. There is beauty in a human figure at every age.

Main scenes

The two main scenes in Amour are first when Anneʼs former pupil Alexander comes to visit, sits down opposite the couple and Georges and Anne settle to meet this young man. Their posture and eyes are waiting for a mutually rewarding afternoon in intellectually pleasant discussion. They are ready to answer the visitorʼs cultural level in same amount, with certainty and pleasure. The visitor disappoints them by falling into common downfall of underestimating the aged people, falling into the trap of thinking bodily frailness to mean intellectual frailness.

The second main scene is in the end when the daughter Eva opens the door to the empty apartment that once used to be the home of her intelligent and life enjoying parents, Georges and Anne, but now it is empty, all the particles, matter and spirit of a beautiful life have been taken away. Evaʼs past, connection with her parents is gone, not to be recovered ever again, but in memories. She cannot meet them any more and she realizes the lost possibilities and the lost duties of love.

The pace

The movie takes us from everydayʼs busy activities into gradually slowing pace, one walks with the charactersʼ slowing actions every painful step, into the final bedridden state of Anne. The immensely heavy load of keeping the life bearable for both, as much as possible, that is Georgesʼs lot.

The movie reminds me of Vilhelm Hammershoiʼs refined and mystical paintings of quiet interiors that tell awesome stories to one who can look.

Mystic

The pigeon that comes in from the light shaft window is a burglar to disturb the settled life in the apartment. It comes as comes Anneʼs former pupil, as Eva the daughter, as Anneʼs nurses, the caretaker and his wife, whom the spectator feels like yes, you did your help, now leave them in peace.

Anneʼs and Georgesʼs life work involving classical music students, growing up a daughter is over, now it would be their turn to give something back, but they are incapable to detach themselves of the existing roles. Eva still needs to be the protected daughter. This misfortune that has befallen her mother is happening to Eva alone. So common is the younger generationʼs sense of power that they donʼt realize the lifeʼs real measure. One can also see it in Alexanderʼs arrogance while enjoying his professional success and not noticing to respect Anneʼs involvement in his carrier. Anneʼs disappointment is understandable, the more so since she is confined bodily inside the house with her vibrant intellect intact which Alexander fails to see.

We roam in the nightly apartment together with Georgesʼs mind, with Anneʼs mind. This is a mystical side in the film and as painful for the spectator as for the inhabitants. While it is mystic it also is real. Time is passing. It has passed for so long, people use it in different things in different times. The paintings that are brought in front of our eyes, each individually, show the coupleʼs love for outdoors, people in nature, classical art. They all stand still in this part of the coupleʼs life. Now they need help but in the same time they donʼt agree to give up their integrity that they have in times passing so slowly acquired. This creates conflict with the outer world that has no idea how important it is for an individual to be respected as a complete human being to the very end, even when the bodily functions gradually overcome the mental functions. Eva, the daughter wants to talk ʻseriouslyʼ about motherʼs condition. She means mother has to be solved like a problem.

Anne has no one but Georges to respect her. It comes from the long life together, getting used to each other, but there is the feeling of compassion, even in the most excruciating moments when the conflicts rise between Anne and Georges.

The dilemma

The pigeon that brings trouble for Georges symbolizes the new challenges he has, as does the nightmare that frightens Georges as well as the spectator. It is uncanny how this slow-paced quiet movie comprises also elements that surprise, excite and make us laugh. There are moments of chance that create reality, as in life itself.

Amour touches us all, we all are human beings who age in body and mind, and what is finally left until the end are the feelings. It can be seen in Anne, when she cannot express herself any more quickly and effectively in words, her memories are there, even sporadically, with feelings. Agitated, she becomes calm when Georges touches her hand.

First reflecting Anneʼs new feeble situation we find Anne reading a book by Austrian conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. It is natural for Anne to be interested in classical music and literature. Here rises an additional point with the fact that Harnoncourt, who died this year, actually used to rescue ancient musical instruments from junk-stores and give them new life, as I read from his obituary. It seems that the ancient instruments had to be played differently from those in orchestra. We are reminded of Harnoncourt to be a gentle soul who struggled to understand why people could be so mean.

Are these kind of details the directorʼs way to insert his film with innumerable hints and discoveries which make Amour new and watchable again and again? I have written here a hundred spoilers but still have been able only to scratch the surface.

The dilemma is how can we know when it is the most humane moment for a person to die? Are we allowed to decide at all? Anne knew that her condition will not be better, only worse. Also Georgesʼs physical and mental strength slowly waned.

Finally

Amour shows a time in one aged coupleʼs life, a couple in love. It is a miniature of the bigger world scale where we all need gentle feelings and enjoyment towards each other to fill our days. Without compassion life is monstrous.

I read a critic about Amour where it was written this to be a tedious movie with two old people ghosting along in slow-motion, the woman sick and dying and the man surly and shuffling along with hernia. Two stars. It can be seen that way, I understand the impatience of the young when the old age does not exist yet. On the other hand I am thinking more and more about the necessity of old age films. Alejandro González Inárritu already has shown the way with his middle-aged Birdman, and what about other superheroes, Batman, Terminator, Blade Runner etc, what are they like when old, with all their experience? What do they think about their career? Marcello Mastroianni, who died in 1996, said after reaching 70 when asked that his “wish role now would be Old Tarzan, a hero who means nothing any more. Nobody misses Tarzan. This kind of film could become a comedy but in the same time a profound work of art that describes the old age and loneliness of a person who once was a hero but whom even the crocodiles are not afraid any more”. “Malicious ancient fart, you old shit!” says Anneʼs nurse to Georges – because she can. A joke from Mastroianni, but there is really a need for appreciating the old and stop underestimating our humanity, even at the most fragile state.

My valuation on Amour: 5/5