Posted December 25, 2012 by William Dunmyer in Drama

Amour: Thin Exploration of Death

In reviewing Michael Haneke’s disturbing film “The Piano Teacher” from 2001, I said that a distinctive trait of Haneke’s direction was that it was “pitiless in its depiction of human frailty” — moral and psychological frailty, that is.

Now Haneke for the first time turns his attention to physical frailty. In “Amour” (Love), his new film, he looks at bodily decay in a starkly frank but somewhat tender way. We watch as an 80-something woman has two strokes, becomes gradually incapacitated, and wastes away before our eyes. We quite literally watch death occur. We also watch her 80-something husband help her in her last days in their Paris apartment and struggle with the excruciating decision of whether to help her die sooner.

┬áThe problem is that there’s almost no script. It’s just 2 hours of watching this woman struggle to eat, wash, and go to the bathroom. “Amour” says very little about its subject. It just depicts it. There is some artistic and humanitarian value in looking with open eyes at the long slow decline that most of us will go through and the difficulties our loved ones will have helping us in our last days.

But “Amour” doesn’t do much with this. Ultimately, it’s a thin piece of work. Emanuelle Riva does a good job bringing this woman’s suffering to life. Her agony is heart-breaking. But of course this subject matter is going to break one’s heart. A serious work of art has to do more than that. Death is tough. Is that what Haneke means to say with “Amour”? I suspect everyone already knows that.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.