European cinema of the 21st century isn’t complete without Michael Haneke’s name stamped on the list. The Austrian filmmaker may have gathered a reputation for being dispassionate and nihilistic, with his icy, calculated cinematic approach like a surgeon drawing a scalpel to human morality. Condemn him in any way you want – the man is never inhumane and never less piercing in making his point. His oeuvre surgically sliced society through his various explorations of violence, human nature, paranoia, lust, desire and the root of evil in his exhaustively demanding films such as Funny Games, Code Unknown, Hidden, The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon. Now, as if he hasn’t portrayed enough human suffering on camera, he turns his unaffected eye to humanity’s most basic yet profound truth – mortality. Amour may bear the hallmarks of a deeply moving story about love and devotion – but at its practical core, this is a film about two people facing death, the ultimate undefeated arch-nemesis of love and life. Death always wins. But it’s love that keeps them going until the very imminent end. Haneke completely throws sentimentality and kitsch out of the window and let it run over by a fucking bus – and instead exhibits the concept, in true Haneke fashion, over two hours of unflinching cinematic portrayal of human deterioration, as though he’s taken the first ten minutes of Up, where a husband watches his wife’s retrogression into old age and illness, and plays it in decisively merciless slow-motion. And if that’s not enough, Haneke allowed French veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva (both alumni of the French New Wave) enact physical dissolution, especially Riva, whose descent into a state of paralysing dementia is overpowering and irrevocably devastating. Trintignant is equally masterful, he is stoicism and tenacity personified. That despite of his cool and collected demeanour, he’s a broken man trying to gather it together, with heartbreaking acceptance, the truth of watching someone he’s spent decades with painstakingly wither and die in front of his eyes. Haneke’s thesis here is not without an emotional power – ageing equates to isolation, and our ultimate death is the ultimate payback for having lived all those years. It sounds bleak, yes, but it’s a perspective that proves Haneke a very humane auteur. If you come out of this film feeling thoroughly depressed and saddened, that’s because you’ve missed the point. This is how we’re all going to end up, if we’re lucky, and there’s no escaping from it. So live your life to the fullest now, we’ll all suffer and die sooner or later anyway.
DIRECTOR: Michael Haneke | CAST: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert | SCREENPLAY: Michael Haneke | PRODUCER: Les Films du Losange | RUNNING-TIME: 127 mins | GENRE: Drama | COUNTRY: France/Austria