“Amour” is two hours of intimate misery, filmed up close without apology. It is a film meant to be experienced, not enjoyed. For most, movies are a source of escape, one where the audience experiences distance from their lives through adventure or romance. “Amour” shows a different side of cinema, one that seeks to draw us together, to form a common bond through realism and heartache.
This isn’t a film for repeat viewing—it is difficult to watch, filled with uncomfortable silence and failing hope. But more than that, it shows the ending of a journey between two people. It shows that love is much more than a feeling of attraction. It is a decision made out of mutual respect and admiration.
“Amour” is one of those films that reveal the destination at the outset. We know how the film is going to end. Anne and Georges appear to have been together for a long time. We watch them together—at a concert, riding the bus, preparing for bed—and we get the impression that the pair is more than content.
They were joined together as one flesh and have affectionately remained so. We see no overt displays of emotion, no great speeches or pronouncements There is more affection in the way Georges removes his wife’s coat as they enter the house than in any rain-soaked embrace that might be found in a Nicholas Sparks film.
The next morning, the pair is having breakfast and Anne stares into space. Georges speaks to her, but she doesn’t respond. After a few minutes, Anne returns and doesn’t remember the incident. We learn later that she has suffered a stroke. She has surgery to remove a blockage in an artery, but it goes poorly and she is left paralyzed on her right side. The rest of the film follows Anne’s deterioration over an unknown period of time. There are nurses and doctors, wheelchairs and automatic beds. We know that things are going to go from bad to worse. These are the final lonely steps of a lifelong partnership.
There are other characters in the film—a daughter, a former student, the landlord. Each person has a different reaction to the Anne’s illness. The daughter expects better care, assuming that her father isn’t up to the task. The student is saddened by his former teacher’s condition, but doesn’t know how to express himself in her presence. In a telling scene, the landlord compliments Georges on how he’s handled the situation.
For Georges, there isn’t any other way to behave. Illness of this nature isn’t unlike having a young child—care isn’t optional, it’s a requirement. To compliment Georges on how he cares for his wife is like giving him praise for each subsequent breath. The choice doesn’t seem like a choice at all.
Therein lays the beauty of “Amour.” Every action by Georges is one of respect and honor. These are scenes of adoration, of intimacy, more so than any romantic scene put on film. Watching Georges lift his wife from the toilet is more powerful that watching two young lovers dance the tango. Seeing Anne reach for Georges hand while she tries her hardest to form simple words into sentences as they practice speech is more moving than an embrace at sunset. Seldom do audiences have the opportunity to see the end of a life in such excruciating detail.
Most films spare the audience from lingering death. Massive heart attacks, car accidents and gunshot wounds are common. That’s the easiest way for death to be addressed in escape fantasy. We want the opportunity to briefly say goodbye, then a fade to black and quick cut to the funeral.
But chances are, we’ll all spend time waiting in a hospital, listening to beeping machines while our loved ones cling to life. Our own life-saving technology significantly lengthens the process of dying. “Amour” is a film that should be seen, pondered and then let go.