Any review of Mchael Haneke’s “Amour” should start by noting what a moving story it tells. Did I cry during “Amour”? Two-ply tissues. “Amour” gives a gentle but chilling view into the final months of a woman’s life, and the frustration of a husband who must care for his loved one as she slowly passes away.
However I approach “Amour” with two minds. As a touching depiction of life struggling toward an end, “Amour” is a beautifully crafted drama-–with honest, well-written dialogue and clear, simple direction. As the latest representative of European arts and its predilection toward suffocating gloom, it is a mechanical thrill ride for existential depressives. Twice the winner at Cannes, Haneke is essentially the Steven Spielberg of this genre.
Winner of the Palm D’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, “Amour” is part of the tradition in high-end European art cinema that the best way to find eternal truth is to stare deeply into the bony dread of living. “Amour” comes from the same cloth as Pedro Almenabar’ s assisted-suicide hagiography “The Sea Inside” and Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia.” The trend also includes Haneke’s last film, “The White Ribbon,” which also earned the Austrian director Best Film at Cannes.
Last year, “Melancholia” ended up on my top 10 list, in spite of my disagreeing with the film’s cynical worldview. “Melancholia” took a similarly gloomy premise-– a depressed woman, the destruction of Earth by a rogue planet–and built on it through intelligent social observation and the director’s impish sense of humor.
Whatever you wish to say about Von Trier and that film, the Danish director used that framework to wryly draw out observations about the way we live.
“The White Ribbon” possessed some of those qualities, even if its coldness and cynicism turned it into a horse-whipping experience. “Amour” is a less nimble animal. The emotions are touchingly rendered and real (such as when Jean-Louis Trintigant helps Emmanuelle Riva take a few gingerly steps around an empty room). Those who have experienced the death of a loved one could well find it cathartic on a personal level. But the film comes from a tradition that has said a lot and doesn’t have much left to say. “Amour” comes from this intellectual tradition that has stopped growing because it too rarely lets in enough sunlight to question itself.