By tomorrow morning, Manila time, we’d know the Oscar winners. 2012 has had a great haul. You have your favorites as I have mine. Argo is the most entertaining, even if it feels like an episode from McGyver – you’d know the hostages would come through. Zero Dark Thirty triumphs for having the highest degree of difficulty, to borrow a term from diving. The most intelligent and artfully made film, though, is the French film Amour directed by Austrian Michael Haneke.
It’s not your typical date movie. It must not be the last film to see before going to bed. Watch Zohan or any Disney movie after Amour. It’s sad, dark and painful. Just like the thought of mort (death), which could’ve been its alternate title.
The drama plays out within the four walls of an apartment in Paris. The only time the camera captures life outside the apartment is in the opening sequence, at a concert. Yet, the two main characters and the theatre audience are framed from the stage’s perspective. After that the camera settles in the apartment and never leaves. The apartment becomes the stage where we witness an old couple in their 80s (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) living a comfortable existence in relative solitude. We learn that they’ve spent their younger years in classical music. They have a daughter they don’t see much. Their neighbors are friendly enough to assist them in daily chores. They seem to have shared a great love together. Until one morning, the wife suffers a stroke. The horror begins. Their world is rocked by the unflinching reality of death.
What follows is a brave and systematic depiction of what the certainty of death does to the dying and the caregiving partner. The humiliation of the body. The uglification of a once elegant person. The disintegration of ego. The distrust for doctors and nurses. How patience wears thin. Relatives who are helplessly mournful and aren’t helping any. Hopelessness and the meaning of life in its final stage. How love remains in sour times.
Amour is an extraordinary meditation on love and death. But I can’t see it again. Emmanuelle Riva’s character could well be our parent whose health is failing. The glee is gone. The degeneration of body and spirit becomes more obvious with every visit.
What I’d like to remember about the film, though, is the assertion that love exists because of the certainty of death. Love has more meaning because it can’t last forever.