‘Amour’ is French for ‘love’, but the movie could just as easily been called ‘Mort’ (death), as it charts the decline of an elderly Parisian couple into the embrace that awaits us all. Like the other Haneke movies I’ve seen, this a beautifully-composed, elliptical film. And I would also just as well as seen some other film which wasn’t such a draining and depressing experience. But you can’t fault him on consistency. If anything, the movie chickens out at the end in maintaining his bleak White Ribbon worldview, offering (perhaps) a vision of the afterlife. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The movie opens with a shot where death (metaphorically) finally breaks down the door. It then jumps back in time, to a night when the couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) go to a piano concert to watch an old pupil perform. I wish the editing had continued to play around with ambiguous time-jumps between scenes, since many of the scenes are quite slow, and could have been improved by allowing the audience to stay engaged in trying to determine the correct order of the timeline. But, with the possible exception of the penultimate scene, which might be interpreted as a flashback, they seem to proceed in linear order from here onward.
We are treated to a very Funny Games-esque fourth-wall shot, where we in the theater audience observe a theater audience. The couple returns home to discover someone had tried (but failed) to break into their apartment. This, I interpret, is Death’s first knock at the door, and presages Anne’s mini-stroke, which happens the next morning.
From there, the movie observes with the cool distance of Cache Anne’s decline and Georges alternate devotion and frustration. After a visit to the hospital for a failed operation, she makes him promise he will never send her back to a hospital. And he keeps that promise.
The movie’s story seems to ask how far we would go in caring for a loved-one who is on a downward trajectory. I think most people would respond pretty much how Georges does, although many would not go as far as his final act of mercy.
While I think it is pretty clear that we are meant to interpret the scene where Anne leads Georges out the apartment door as a scene of her leading him into death — taking place, as it does, after his final act of devotion, spreading flowers around her mummified corpse and sealing her room up with tape. But what to make of his dream, with the wet hallway, and the hand around his mouth (which made the audience in my theater gasp in true jump-scare fashion)? And what about those pigeons?
I think the vision is probably another reminder of death, that intruder at the door. What the water means, I do not know. I don’t think we are meant to connect it to Anne’s later loss of bladder control, or the shower scene. My best guess is that we are meant to be reminded of the scene where she had the mini-stroke, and he left the faucet running. One day soon, she won’t be able to wake up and turn it off.
As for the pigeons… I’m stumped. The fact that he feels the need to write about it in what I presume is some kind of suicide note further underlines its symbolic valence. He said catching the second pigeon was easy, although it did take him a while. As long as he can catch a pigeon, is he still a hunter who contributes to his tribe? Amour made me think of how the San people treat their dying elders. When they get too infirm to keep up with the tribe, they are set down in some shade with water and food. And they are given a stick to defend themselves against predators. And they are left behind.
Anne refuses food and water. Is Georges being selfish in forcing it upon her? I think he does it out of love, and it is out of love that he smothers her. By calling the movie Amour, Haneke would also seem to be endorsing Georges’ actions. But what about Anne’s actions? Her character appears to only have control for a small portion of the film, but she sets the course of her decline by making him promise not to send her back to a hospital. And she forces him to leave the room and have some independence. In the end, she refuses the water. So perhaps she was setting the parameters the whole time. And was that a form of love?