This is my first written film review. I have just seen Amour, twice, more appropriately titled A Mort, which may be the greatest film I have ever seen, not just for its outstanding acting by Emmanuelle Riva as the dying Anne and direction by Michael Haneke, but for the extraordinary screenplay, photography, script, pacing, and absence of sound and sentiment.
While Ms. Riva is an obvious winner of greatest interpretation of our age, the overall work of art places this film in a category of its own. Visually, I saw the striking references to Mondrian, de Hooch, Vermeer, and Vuillard. The entire account is set in the polished paneled spaces of a 19th century apartment, through which the actors move for the entire movie, sometimes moving through the tunneling light and shade of hallways, other times appearing through the gaps of open doors, moving from one room to the other, almost accidentally, allowing us to peer into their lives and emotions. Some of the flat paneled walls were so beautifully shot that I wished I could take just one of the views home with me to hang on my wall and open up a window into another world. Light caresses these walls, expressing the passage of time and emergence of life and death.
Time stretches out allowing us to witness slowly, so slowly, the most ordinary motions, such as cutting and eating a forkful of a carefully sliced portion of meat, as measures of mood. It is real time, with the only sound being that of metal sliding against china. Sound again stabs my feelings with the slide/scrape of Anne’s painful leg across the polished wood floor as her husband Georges helps her navigate the hall.
Anne’s dying and suffering is the center of the film. She rarely complains; she looks beseechingly, uncomprehending, at Georges, “Je ne comprends pas.” Toward the end, she groans, “mal – mal – mal.” Wanting to be freed to her death she refuses his attempts to feed her. Frustrated in his need to keep her with him, he strikes her helpless face. Leaving us in shock and dismay, the camera takes us away to the beautiful landscaped paintings hanging on the wall, 30 long seconds each, giving us peace to absorb and find a relief from this awful agony.
To me, especially at the second viewing, she is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, thoughtful and inquiring about her upcoming death. She is dressed well, her hair combed in an elegant swirl, her eyes fixed on Georges (and mine). I so wanted to hold, caress, and comfort her. I am grateful that Georges remembers her as a younger woman at the piano so I can share that memory with him and wish she was still with us as she was, when she lovingly observed, “C’est beau, la vie.”
Amour brought to mind the extraordinary The Mill and the Cross, based entirely on a Flemish historic landscape by Peter Breughel. The positive absence of extraneous music also brought to mind Barbara, the account of the tribulations of an East German doctor, also now playing at the Angelica. The emotional intensity of a somewhat ordinary life event also evoked Bernard Tavernier’s Sunday in the Country.
Emmanuelle Riva’s interpretation of her days of dying was incomparable under the very skilled direction of Michael Haneke. Her twisted, tortured limbs, and foot scrapes across the polished wood floor and her near howling moans from her bed pillow were tortured emanations of her suffering in front of the intense helplessness of her aging husband’s inability to alleviate her suffering; but there were also tender moments when absence of pain allow her to accuse Georges affectionately, “Tu est un monstre, mais si gentil.”
Haneke uses these interiors one last time, allowing the ghosts of these two dying paramours to pass finally through the apartment door for the last time, leaving the daughter sitting in the abandoned salon as the dark enfolds her as well. I have not seen just a movie but experienced a rare and talented work of art.
Strangely, it left me with a dream, where I was riding in the rear seat of a roller coaster type jointed vehicle, where the woman driver in front was speeding around curves and over hills. I craned my neck to see where we were going, to see the road and land beyond. There was only a clear, infinite blue sky. Anne was the driver; I trusted her.
The film grabbed and held me and would not let me go until the wee hours of the morning when I rose to write this review, my first. It can be seen at Film Forum on Houston Street, just east of Varick Street.