Much has already been written about Haneke’s Amour and its unflinching look at the end of life, its superb acting, and exquisite filming and framing. There is probably not much I can add to the innumerable reviews, mostly praising, of this film. This film has haunted me for days as I felt personally absorbed into its story and its space. In the midst of my day I have caught myself viscerally in the hallway or the kitchen of the Parisian apartment where this story of relationship, commitment, and ultimate dissolution takes place.
It is entirely remarkable to see two older actors on the screen. Usually what we see is so glamorized and “hollywood” and young. It was awesome and somehow so intimate to see two actors, both in their eighties, so real, so aged, so vulnerable, so exposed. It struck me how rare this opportunity was and how powerful and genuine the experience was simply because of its infrequency.
A layer to this film that may not be accessible to younger viewers was that I actually recognized these two actors, vaguely at first. Emmanuelle Riva who plays the wife in this film was the star of Hiroshima, Mon Amour, the 1959 film by Alain Resnais about a french woman filming an anti-war film in Hiroshima who has a 24 hour affair with a married Japanese architect. The film is actually short conversations between Emmanuelle Riva known as She and Eiji Okada known as He about memory and forgetfulness. Each of their pasts, hers in occupied France, his in the bombing of Hiroshima, are intercut and one is never really clear whether one is watching 1945 or 1959. It’s a complex film, not easy to make sense of. This was the film that ushered in the French New Wave with creative intercuts of quick flashbacks throughout. I saw this film when I was in my early twenties, when I was obsessed with being an artist. I remember feeling like I needed to do a lot of work in putting the pieces of this film together, of making sense of it all. It was powerful emotionally and intellectually and evoked passions that were complicated and made poignant by the characters’ pasts.
Jean-Louis Trintignant is the husband in Amour and was the star of A Man and a Woman (1966, directed by Claude Lelouche), with Anouk Aimee. This love story was embedded in lush photography–meadows, rain-soaked windshields. I was 16 when this film came out and was totally absorbed by its syrupy and visually pastiched love story. Indeed, it was known as the ultimate “date movie” of the sixties. I can still hum the sound track and clearly remember whose hand I was holding.
As I watched Amour, in the back of my mind, I actually saw Riva and Trintignant when they were young and in love in Hiroshima, Mon Amour and A Man and a Woman, and I saw my young self as I witnessed the brutal aging process portrayed in this film. I actually brought, unintentional on the filmmaker’s part, some sense of the fictional past of these two characters and my personal experience with them. It was odd somehow that the filmic histories of these actors infused Amour and added a layer to their very genuine performances for me and made these unrelated past encounters somehow relevant to the energy of this film. It gave them a three dimensionality which made the story all the more real, poignant, and personal.
Amour is indeed a brilliant film in its own right without these external connections, but it was stunning to have had vicarious relationships with this film’s actors, which made it, for me, all the more real, intimate, authentic, and disturbing.