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Friday, 21 December 2012

Not Haneke's way

This is a reaction to seeing Michael Haneke's Amour (2012)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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21 December

This is a reaction to seeing Michael Haneke's Amour (2012)

* Contains spoilers *

Michael Haneke shows something, but leaves it to us what it means, what happened, and he has not deviated from it with Amour (2012). This is something that I value and regard as honesty, that he wants us to be co-creators of the film, and, in interviews that are the ‘extras’ on DVD releases, he has talked clearly about this aspect of film-making, e.g. with Hidden (Caché) (2005) and its ending.

That said, a friend of a friend thought the film was depressing and that it was obvious - not open to question - what had happened and why that was, so one can’t please everyone : on that view, the path had been shown, and was an inevitable and downwards one, and the response was to feel that the film itself was gloomy.

I disagreed, not because, for its own sake, I embrace the depiction of someone deteriorating (although, obviously, people do deteriorate, and that is not unrelated to death and mortality, but Amour is not a documentary), but since deterioration was not, as I saw it, the point of the film, but, rather, that it said something about Anne and Georges, about their relationship : this, too, was an account of the film to which this other viewer could not relate.

If one doubted that there are ambiguities, here are some examples :

* Anne does not tell us why she asks Georges to turn off the new CD of her former pupil Alexandre Tharaud (as himself) playing Schubert – she does not explain the request, so we could infer one of several things, such as that she does not wish to be reminded of Tharaud’s recent visit (for any number of reasons), or of her own inability to play

* When Georges is playing the piano, why he stops, and does not continue or explain, when Anne asks him why he has stopped

* Why Georges dismisses the second nurse whom he engaged – is it really because he is disgusted with her care of Anne, or because he does not want her around and invents a pretext to pay her off ?

* What becomes of Georges and why he chose to do as he did (then and now)

I do not think that I need go on. The point is that Haneke and his film are silent on these things – he is not telling us the answers, and we have to decide for ourselves the rationale in these two people’s minds and hearts. He may have a choice in mind that they made, but he has left it to us to make inferences and not pointed to it. So the viewer who finds the film depressing may be projecting a trajectory onto it, but I say that it is not the only one, and that maybe it was hoped that we would feel more torn, not just about the judgements that we may find ourselves making here, but more generally in life.

Not, though, a didacticism in film-making, I would say, but merely mirroring the complexity of our being, that I may guess at what you mean or your actions, but can I be sure? And was Emmanuelle Riva as Anne ever really helpless ? She was defiant, in pain, stubborn, she was a person, and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), her husband (and another person), was caring, bewildered, resigned, and even frustratedly angry with her.

The film, on my view, was about them and only about what happened to Anne in how it affected them : at the outset, when Georges has been trying to determine what has happened to Georges, she says that he is a monster, but that he is also (I forget the exact word) kind (or caring), and that description rang with me, in a quiet way, as I saw him during the film, and saw her for seeing him that way.

Both actors were in these roles fully, Trintignant, for example, with his trainers about the flat and his varying facial expression, and the reality that Anne and he brought to the everyday made the moments of imagination, memory, dream and even terror that came more powerful – a seeming naturalism against which their unusualness could come to the fore.

As I have suggested, we felt that we were on the inside of Anne’s experience, not that something was happening to her and she was a victim : when she desires her death, there is even a recollection of the grim humour of Samuel Beckettt’s novel Malone Dies, where he writes (Malone is the writer / narrator) that, if he had the strength, he would throw himself out of the window.

Their daughter Eva, played by Isabelle Huppert, seemed on the outside of it all, not just because she was kept out, but because her belief in medical science meant that she was to slow to acknowledge what had happened and was happening (and that led to her being kept out). Tharaud, too, concentrating too much on what had happened to Anne and not on being with her, almost seemed to doubt that Anne, whom one felt he viewed as her wheelchair, could benefit from hearing him play for them.

This film contains beautiful French, beautifully spoken, and with subtitles that intelligently interpret the dialogue. As to why it is called Amour, not L’Amour, I have puzzled over that one. Thanks to, I know, though, that a film of the same name in 1971 also dropped the article (although the title of the novel by Marguerite Duras did not):

I still busy myself with whether, as I suspect, the meaning ‘love’ is changed by the omission to be of less general application, as in amour fou, where one knows that Love is not embodied, but a type (or example) of love.

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