Michael Haneke is a genuine auteur and perhaps one of the last. He might just be the closest thing we have to the existentialist Albert Camus or the understated crime writer Patricia Highsmith in the cinema. No matter what his alienating subject matter is, he rarely diverts his camera along a primrose path. Like his contemporary Lars von Trier, he doesn't bother to make his audiences watch comfortably.
He is known for introducing us to savage voyeurs, spacey Kubrick-cubed kindergarteners and sociopathic teens.
Haneke's Oscar-winning "Amour" is somewhat of a departure. The threat comes not from the white gloved and tennis shirted bestial youths in "Funny Games" but rather life, the randomness of chance or perhaps the mere apartment of a retired couple.
Georges and Anne (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) are two aging former teachers and also husband and wife who love and respect each other. Georges is worried about burglaries and a lock on the door (even though there is no harbinger of danger---no sight of the creepy Peter or Paul here). Georges makes a phone call and eats a meal. Abruptly without an inkling of doom, Anne becomes catatonic and unresponsive. After what seems five full minutes, Anne snaps into life as quickly as she left it, with no memory of Georges' alarm.
Anne gets admitted to the hospital with surgery on the carotid artery. She has a stroke. Anne returns home in a wheelchair and Georges takes on the task of caring for his wife. The first sight of Anne as a gray but fiery leaf enclosed in chrome is jarring and confrontational as are the very walls and corners of the apartment which stand out as spiny exclamation points which may or may not lead to Anne's or Georges' final moments.
Anne does her best to combat the effect of her stroke which paralyzes the right side of her normally buoyant body but her condition becomes progressively worse. Anne gets a motorized chair and cries with a primal glee but she then gets a second stroke which confines her to bed.
All the while Georges soldiers on stoic and resolute, refusing to return calls. Relatives and friends pop by to snoop in a Kafkaesque manner. While Eva (Isabelle Huppert) carries on about money as her invalid mother heaves laboriously is absurdist and bleak, the student Geoff (William Shimell) with his bland obsequiousness will definitely remind you of the pokey assistants in The Castle.
To intensify things (if by chance you crave more) there is a bedroom scene that is almost as anxious as William Friedkin with a gob of water dramatically spat in Georges' face.
The icing on the sickle, however, is the emergence of Georges' nightmare which is as scary as a Ringu-cycle horror film.
"Amour" echoes Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in its juxtaposition of haunt and hurt. Impressionist landscape paintings shown between Anne's exchanges of breath are comparable to Gregor’s insectile yearning for the lascivious muffed portrait on his bedroom wall.
Both are beyond reach.
Georges impulsively seals up the room with brown packing tape and the effect is very like that of sealing up a caterpillar within a cocoon.
By the time Eva re-enters with business-like heels clicking on the silent floor, the apartment might just have well been visited by the smirking white shades of Peter or Paul only seconds before.
Write Ian at email@example.com