ALSO SEE UNDER FILM GROUP PAGE THE RESPONSES OF THE FILM GROUP
Two people have said to me: your blog is about the representation of old women and yet you do not address this in the one about Amour. This is true. On reflexion it is extraordinary that in a film that is called ‘love’, the characterisation of the two main protagonists is minimal but we are kept involved to the bitter end.
Physically, both the actors are of the age (81 and 84) of their characters and display the physical signs of the ageing body. Riva’s acting as a victim of repeated strokes is remarkable. Trintignant shows the signs of an ageing body. All we get to know is that Anne and Georges behave in a warm and considerate way towards each other and that Georges is protective of his wife. Anne is a successful music teacher appreciated by her student who became a concert pianist. Of Georges we know nothing. As the film progresses, we see Anne as a very determined person: she demands of her husband to keep her at home, she initially copes with her disability but as she gets more dependent and robbed of her dignity she makes two attempts at killing herself (once by trying to jump through the window and later by refusing to eat and drink). Georges becomes the dutiful carer of his wife with no other needs or function. In a world where the majority of carers are women, who are taken for granted and ignored, this reversal focuses the attention on the role.
I would like to propose that the word ‘amour’ misleads the commentators into concentrating on the devotion and love of Georges for his wife. Amour does elicit questions about the forced isolation of the old, the ageing deteriorating body, aging and relationships, disability, caring, the last days of life, assisted suicide. It is a powerful tool for consciousness-raising about all these issues if studied in its rich details.
But first I must record the responses by different cinema audiences as reported: Schwartz of La Croix ‘A en juger par les profonds silences qui ont marqué la fin des projections cannoises et de l’avant-première parisienne …’ (… to judge by the deep silences that marked the end of the screenings in Cannes and the preview in Paris…).
KE (Older Women in film group): I feel I could warble on about it at length (and perhaps my experience as a funeral celebrant gives me a particular perspective) and yet I am awed into quietness, as though having contemplated something holy’.
‘EO (Older Women in film group): I still found myself silent, not wanting to move or talk to anyone as the film ended… The absolutely silent audience at the film’s end (silence even when leaving the cinema).
RR (Older Women in film group): At the end of the film a deep long silence weighed heavy in the auditorium before people started moving and murmuring. I wondered what this young audience was feeling.
‘And finally a rather ageist blogger on the Guardian film blog site : At the end of the movie, as I have been doing since I was a little kid: I applauded. Usually when I do this, people join in. They do so because they are drawn back to a time in their lives when they did not take motion pictures for granted, when going to the movies was absolutely thrilling. But this time, nobody joined in. When I got up and turned around, I saw row after row of stunned, silent seniors. They looked shell-shocked. No one was talking. A woman sitting two rows behind me seemed to wonder what I was clapping about.
It is obvious that the film achieves a great emotional impact. There are three sequences that have a shock effect. George’s nightmare, Anne refusing to eat and drink followed by Georges’ slap, and Georges responding to Anne’s pain by ending her suffering. These scenes as well as the pigeon episodes are open to interpretation. But these emotional jolts are preceded by scene after scene that give a well-researched and unsentimental account of the effects of a terminal illness on the body and the care this body requires to maintain the dignity of the affected person. Many films have exposed the ravages of Alzheimer Disease but we are not used to seeing the ailing body and its needs so objectively displayed. The general attitude of our society resides in the words of Georges to his daughter: “None of all that deserves to be shown.”
Because of the spoiler effect of disclosing the manner of Anne’s death no reviewers mention it and it is impossible to know what the general public thought of Georges’ motivation. But I will not dwell on elements of the film that can be interpreted according to one’s point of view but to those which elicit questions about a stark social reality and that are ignored by film commentators who are on the whole blind to ageing issues.
It is impossible to read the hundred reviews, articles, blogs written about Amour and my argument may lack some rigour. But the English, American and French top critics, some prominent blogs and countless interviewers are unanimous in praising Haneke as a director ( a couple of rare dissenting voices: Brody in the New Yorker and Delorme in Cahiers du Cinema). The main subject of admiration is the love, devotion, and loyalty that Georges has for Anne in caring for her. Guided by the title – the rejected one ‘ La Musique S’arrête’ would have been more appropriate – the majority of commentaries ignore the social significance of this film. In interviews it seems that Haneke refuses to bring this to the fore. He says: Amour involves a thousand different things, and when I emphasize one of them, I reduce all the others.
One ageing-conscious interviewer J. Motram (www.curzoncinemas.com) asks: M: Were you conscious that the film touches on how the elderly become ostracised in society?
H : Absolutely. It’s certainly the case that our society doesn’t like dealing with certain issues – everything that doesn’t represent success or deals with illness, anything that’s not productive, doesn’t create wealth, and that’s banned to the sidelines… that’s not the subject of my film but it certainly develops from it. It’s the same with old people. You don’t see much of them in daily life and very few families live together. They’re all split up.
What ‘develops’ from the film?
The isolation of the old. It is the forced gradual isolation, isolation that disability forces on people who do not belong to a close community or family where there are daily social contact. The isolation that disability like loss of mobility, deafness, illness prevents old people from engaging in social activities that involve the able. The isolation from family who live dispersed across the country or the world . The isolation by the loss of friends who have moved or died.
The decline of energy when the little left is engaged in keeping body, soul and home together. When the extra effort in trying to understand or communicate with people is not possible.
The alienation from people who care about the situation but are in no position to offer more than sympathy and only very occasionally comfort.
The enormous resources of love and practicalities needed to maintain the dignity of a person when the body fails and deteriorates. The need for support for the carers
The quality of care that should involve not only the expertise of taking care of the body but also sensitivity to the psychological and cultural needs of a person.
These issues are all suggested in the film. Haneke continues in his interview with Motram : But my film doesn’t try to change that. It would be impossible for it to change that. It’s something that all you can do is reflect on and try to be aware of.
Alas our ageist and individualistic culture is reflected in the fact that few of the commentators show any awareness of these elements of the film. To change things it would be necessary to change our whole mindset about ageing, disability, terminal illness, caring.
As soon as Anne comes home she forces Georges to promise her that he will not make her go to hospital. We understand, as Georges does, that she means that she wants to stay at home whatever happens. This implies that her stay in hospital has been less than satisfactory. What would bear discussion is Haneke’s pronouncement to Porton in the Daily Beast: …as I said in my acceptance speech at Cannes, my wife and I promised to each other that we will do everything in our power to avoid the other person being shunned off to the old age home or hospital at the end of our lives… On the Guardian website video Haneke is interviewed by Xan Brooks who suggests to the director that this is not a political film aimed at dealing with the problems with the ageing population. Haneke with a laugh agrees. Was that an ironic response “yes you are right”?
The fear of the retirement home/care home/nursing home/hospital, the either/or dichotomy that is forced on us makes this film a highly political film at least with us old women. Home care amongst your cherished possessions or dismal care and separation in an institution – it does not have to be that way.
Home care if supported by a community that provides daily social contacts and supervises adequate physical care is fine and care homes do not always equal abuse. I have visited a retirement home that residents join when still strong and healthy. They bring their own possessions. Their everyday chores are taken care of and they have time to lead a creative social life and form relationships. In the last period of their lives they are cared for by specialised staff that they are familiar with. There is no need for separation of couples. Family can visit and the place that weekend was full of grand children running around. The carers in this home are also nurtured.
The hospice movement provides excellent end of life care and helps the partner and family to give their best to their loved ones
The Babayagas in Paris and the Old Women Cohousing groups in London are organising their own retirement and end of life in a self-managed and purpose-built structure. (www.owch.org.uk)
Amour is a film that deserves to be studied in detail and if looked at as a political film would lead us to asking questions about our attitudes to ageing, end of life care, love and death.
Haneke: Art does not offer answers, only questions