Michael Haneke Makes A Loving Statement in Amour
by Brad Balfour
A cultivated couple in their 80s, retired music teachers Georges and Anne have a nice apartment in a fine Parisian neighborhood. One night, after seeing a former student perform, Anne blanks out at home, presaging the condition to come. Afterwards, surgery to correct her blocked artery causes a stroke, which paralyzes one side. Suddenly her husband has gone from companion to caretaker. Their daughter, also a musician, lives abroad with her family, is at a loss and wants her mother to go into managed care. Instead, Georges takes another course.
Around this scenario, master director Michael Haneke shaped an artistic, poetic film, Amour, one that has garnered many award wins and nominations including an Oscar for Best Picture. Ever since Amour had its American debut at the 2012 New York Film Festival, Haneke’s film has stirred praise, reaction, commentary, emotions and angst for its actors, characters, and storyline. What a great judgment call on the part of NYFF’s programmers.
Obviously for an Austrian director to make a film entirely in French is an achievement in of itself – something the 70-year-old Haneke has done before – but to do a film of such elegance and complexity about a painful and delicate subject makes it worthy of all accolades. Though Haneke has been nominated for an Oscar before – as well as having won many other awards – few foreign language films also get nominations for Best Picture or its actors.
The following Q&A is culled from the press conference conducted at the NYFF’s press preview screening in October.
You’ve said that this film was inspired by events in your own family. What was it about this subject that appealed to you enough to make such a poignant film?
It was my aunt, I loved her very much, and she was at the end of her life. At the end of her life she was suffering terribly, and it was an awful experience for me to have to go through that, to witness her suffering and not be able to do anything about it. That was the catalyst for the story, although the story of my aunt has nothing to do with the story I tell on screen.
As a director, what were the challenges of staging the film almost entirely in an apartment?
First of all, when you’re old and elderly your life is then reduced to the four walls that you live in. That was the external reason for the choice. I could have opened the story up, and made a drama that included everything that goes on around the scenes in the hospital, everything to make a sort of socially critical film that you often see on television, but that wasn’t my concern. I was focusing on the love story. There was another consideration for the aesthetic choice however. When you’re dealing with a theme that’s as serious as this one, you have to find a form that’s worthy of what you’re dealing with, and that was the reason that I went back to the three classical unities of Greek drama – time, space and action.
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