Minimalist, exquisite, and horrifying, Amour is extraordinary cinema at its finest, and is easily the greatest masterpiece of 2012. Writer-director Michael Haneke, who just turned 70, is best known for the torturous narratives of Funny Games and The Piano Teacher and the well-crafted misdirection of Caché and the vastly underrated The White Ribbon. Haneke is obsessed with control and perfection. His camera is still, unwavering, unblinking as Georges is confronted with his wife’s first mini-stroke.
Winner of the 2012 Palme d’Or (Haneke’s second), Amour is a living, breathing contradiction. How can a film be teeming with life while overshadowed with death? How can it be simultaneously amusing and heartbreaking? In fact, when Georges describes a funeral visit midway through the film, it is so darkly humorous that it is almost uncomfortable given Amour’s subject matter and overall tone. The answer is simple: we are in the hands of a master at the top of his game.
Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give the best performances of the year, bar none. If I was being impolite, I would say it isn’t even close. Emmanuelle Riva, best known for her role in the classic French New Wave film Hiroshima Mon Amour in 1959, is fragile and scared and heartbreaking. Trintignant, after involvement in the masterpieces The Conformist and Three Colors: Red, matches her step-for-step and elicits a profound shudder when he forgets the film that they experience together, but remembers the emotions: “Feelings are all that matter.”
I find it fascinating that my two favourite films of 2012 both feature an early sequence involving an audience watching an unseen stage or screen in the dark. The films comprise roles on opposite ends of the spectrum. Amour is minimalist docu-drama; Holy Motors is extravagant sci-fi. But while Leos Carax’s achievement was a stunning surprise, Amour is the captivating culmination of decades of practice.
It is technically perfect, proceeds at its own pace, with not a single superfluous scene or shot. The script and the actors are outstanding. It deals with the most troubling of topics, but manages to incorporate feeling and a celebration of life. What else can be said? Haneke has created a peerless triumph.