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By Ben Nicholson • October 20th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Artificial Eye

UK DVD release: March 18th, 2013
Running time: 127 minutes

Country of origin: France/Germany/Austria
Original language: French with English subtitles

Writer and director: Michael Haneke

Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert


When I left the cinema after seeing Michael Haneke’s Amour for the first time on its opening weekend in UK cinemas, I was a little dumbstruck. As is often a problem with film criticism, we’re chasing an instant reaction the moment we step blinking into the world, even if that means grasping at thin air. With the enormous praise heaped upon the film before it hit screens, and being something of a Haneke fan, I really wanted the film to have a profound effect on me and couldn’t quite tell if it had.

I cast my mind back to when I saw his previous film, The White Ribbon (2009), and could vividly remember standing on the pavement outside the same art-house cinema singing its praises to all who’d listen while discussing it with fellow attendees. I’d been mesmerised and wanted everyone to know it – regardless of if they were interested. With Amour, though, I was alone and wandered home through the damp November evening in Oxford trying to come to some conclusion.

It was – even at that early stage – undoubtedly fantastic but there’s something of a fence to jump between fantastic and flat-out amazing; the fence that guards the coveted five-star review. My home is a short bus ride away from the cinema and it was this journey that illuminated my opinion; I burst into tears on three separate occasions before I disembarked. It seems that Amour had hit me after all. It ended up as my top film of 2013, but it remains a difficult one to recommend to people.

I’ve had several conversations about the film in which people – who’ve not seen it – have referred to it as ‘the dementia movie’. It’s a hard claim to refute, as the central narrative does chart a character’s physical and mental decline to the point at which they can no longer feed themselves. At the same time, though, the film’s shot through with a humanity that not always easy to find in Haneke’s work.


Known for putting audiences well and truly through the ringer, the director’s not skimped on the suffering in his latest piece. Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are an octogenarian couple enjoying a rather cultured and financially secure retirement. Their love of theatre and music is only rivalled by their continuing affection for one another. We’re reminded of their advancing years all too quickly as Anne suffers a devastating stroke which paralyses her on one side. This effectively imprisons both of them in their apartment with Anne as patient and Georges and carer. Haneke’s lens watches the deterioration of the former, unblinking in his traditionally austere aesthetic.

Central to the whole thing are two absolutely fantastic performances as the central characters world shrinks to the walls around them. Isabelle Huppert makes a welcome cameo as their daughter, kept at arms’ length by Georges, but it’s the couple who command and deserve our attention. Not that Haneke would allow it to be any other way with his long takes and close-ups focussing us on their weary faces. The film pulls no punches; we don’t cut away just as the less pleasant aspects occur.

What’s interesting with Amour is just how valid the title is. Many people at the time of release suggested this was almost ironic, but it’s an exploration of what love truly entails. The way that love is portrayed in cinema – especially the cinema Amourwe’re used to – is that it’s all romance and contentment. In actual fact, the real thing persists long after that. It could be argued the film is a sobering, or even depressing reminder, that nothing lasts forever and difficult decisions and circumstances are inevitable.

So I think back now, what affected me so much during that bus journey home? Were my tears sadness for the slowly fading light of Georges and Anne’s love? Was it for the people whom I care about that I’ve loved and lost? Was it for friends and family who may one day suffer the same – or even for my own relationship? That’s all more than possible, but in fact, along with sadness was a wonderful sense of warmth. Ultimately, Georges is a character whose love for his wife never dies. From the first frame to the last he’s utterly besotted; he’s been in the preceding years and will be in the following ones.

So whilst Amour is undoubtedly sad, and undeniably difficult to watch, it’s also a reminder of undying love in our ever so cynical modern world and perhaps, just perhaps, there were a few tears of joy amongst the sorrow. In thinking of my own partner, maybe I wasn’t saddened by the thought of a bleak future of entropy, but buoyed by the thought of loving her as strongly in fifty years as I do now. Either way, the film moved me profoundly and deserved every accolade thrown its way.


Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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