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death in ‘amour’, not an easy virtue

best film, best director, best actor, best actress and best original script at the 38th ceremony of the Cesar awards, michael haneke’s  amour is  a strong contender for some oscars tomorrow.

but, whether it wins any oscar or not, it is an excellent film, despite and especially because of its heart wrenching themes and scenes.

the most memorable scene for me in amour is the one where the husband tells the wife a story to change her mood and lessen her increasing pains of living, then stifles her with a pillow, to death. it is memorable because it came as a huge shock to my already weak and weakened sensibility to have to see how touching old age is portrayed.

i tried reflect on the reasons why trintignant would stifle the woman he loves her so much.  my thoughts grew heavy with tears during this strangling scene as i saw riva, the wife, beating up like a fish newly caught, brought out of the water, its life support, and laid down on the sand. as it is gasping for breath, it flips over repeatedly, from one side to the next, then suddenly begins to go limp, and stops flipping as its last breath expires. the strangling scene was a cruel scene to watch, like a dying fish, but oddly i pretended it was a fish, not because i don’t like fish or condone fish-suffering, but i wanted the shock to be less impactful. for it was so real to see.

i wanted to see the director’s background as his scenes are so moving in amour.

i read in http://www.telerama.fr/cinema/philippe-rouyer-haneke-est-un-homme-extremement-sensible-aux-recompenses,93785.php that when haneke debuted, he was traumatized by the hollywood aesthetic. he couldn’t stand the way they made people believe that life always has a happy ending. the refusal of these conventions was so strong for haneke that he refused to portray  happiness or tenderness in his  films, things hollywood have made into commercial clichés.

it is interesting to note that haneke wanted to be a moralizing pastor when he was young, but did music and philosophy instead. the place of music in amour is proof of this education, as is the fact that haneke philosophizes when he asks us questions about old age and love. he is in fact very sensitive with these issues, and gives a great deal of attention and detail to love in amour.

despite haneke’s refusal to portray emotion, amour runs high on emotions, especially tenderness.

does haneke’s refusal to employ hollywood’s aesthetic  imply that hollywood isn’t real, if what haneke shows in amour  IS indeed reality and real?  it isn’t just a simple  anti-hollywoodian refusal to show the realities of life; life is riddled with diminishing health, strokes, loneliness, abandonment by children. there is nothing clichéd about that and it’s all VERY real. for every one of us. perhaps we should adopt montaigne’s strategy and be always prepared for death, as it will surely come knocking on our door one day?

marigold hotel is another film by the british filmmaker, john madden, which also portrays old age beautifully. it is the story of a few older americans who have been rejected for one reason or another and go to india a la eat, pray, love to find something different. judi dench, is one of them. her husband newly dies, and she decides, like many westerners, who, when faced with loss or emptiness, go to the east or  india to ‘find themselves.’ these americans believe they will achieve balance and harmony in india, as old age is not found with welcoming arms in america.

in amour, too, the daughter of the old couple rejects the mother. she is so out of touch with the mother’s suffering and illness that in one scene, she goes on and on about acquiring a house while we see her mother suffering and trying to speak. we learn during the film that the dying mother does not want to see the daughter during her illness.

amour takes place inside the apt of the couple, and not in an ‘old home’ where some parents and elders are abandoned to live off their dying days.  children, like huppert in amour, who doesn’t feel the father’s pain regarding the mother’s demise, forget that their parents were always there for them to hold their hands and teach them much until they could go on their own. when they become adults, abandoning parents is seen as a natural thing to do. but in india parents live to a ripe old age with their children much like what we see  in the marigold hotel which happily houses the old rejected americans, who stay there -in india- where they find joy, and never go back to america which refused, abandoned, and left them feeling alone.

someone told me a long time ago that we reject or hurt the one we love the most. perhaps children do that when they abandon their parents during their parents’ old age?

i thought about this baffling statement and subject of hurting the one you love the most in amour. is it that a thing must be killed for its own good?  like an animal who must be euthanized at the end of its life?

the scene where the wife is strangled in amour reminds me of the movie easy virtue  by stephan elliot where a man is killed for his own good. it stars jessica biel who administers poison to her ailing, terminally cancerous husband, whom she loves. while we witness trintignant stifling riva to death, biel only explains having to kill her ex husband to her new, immature, dandy husband who marries biel on a whim. the fickle boy thought only of sex, her ravishing beauty, stark among the stodgy, shabbily dressed, colorless folks of her husband’s manor and the film. she tells the new husband that he will never know what it is like to really love someone so much that you’ll do anything, even inject your loved one with poison when they’re too feeble to do it themselves. she didn’t believe the young husband could love her like her dead ex-husband. trintignant, too,  loved his wife like biel loved her husband, enough to strangle her and end her suffering. trintignant takes care of his ailing, degenerating wife alone during the entire film until it reaches a point where he couldn’t bear to see her suffering anymore. he felt it incumbent on his love for her to put an end to her suffering, especially as she made him promise solemnly to her, to never take her to a hospital [when she was better]. he respected that last wish she had.

amour and the best exotic marigold hotel are easily an ode to old age. and perhaps that’s what haneke refuses with regard to hollywood, since amour is a story that hollywood usually shuns. the hollywood machine runs on glitz, glam, sex, fast pace and the eternal beauty of youth, none of which amour portrays. thus, when a movie like amour and the best exotic marigold hotel come along, how refreshing to see and what a golden opportunity it is!

in austria, where  music and theatre dominate the arts, and where cinema trails far behind, wouldn’t it be funny if amour, with such a deeply philosophical treatment of love and old age wins some oscars? hollywood might even be encouraged to give screen space to our seniors as they are a vital part of our society?  and i’m not talking 5 minutes of old age a la titanic which concentrates mostly on the young kate winslet and di caprio! amour deserves an oscar for daring to show the beauty of aging and exploring love the way it does.


4 Comments

  1. A great point about Haneke’s refusal to employ hollywood’s aesthetic. I was impressed how “unemotional” by genre the visuals were and YET very powerful. No close-ups, almost no music and all that cliched tricks to squeeze emotions out of the audience. I couldn’t imagine wide shots being so emotionally captivating, by their even emptiness used purposefully.

    I disagree about the daughter, though. I don’t think she rejects her mother, but rather here to show a social trend and, what’s more important, to prove how exceptional is Amour between two main characters.
    And yes the story is about the old couple.
    But peripheral presence and absence such as the daughter do come up at times to make you wonder abt mortality in generally or even in the plot of amour, because in the east parents are like Demi gods whose presence in the house is the equivalent to ‘griots’ in the African culture.

    • Don’t you think that it is this rejection that has become a social trend? In Camus’ etranger, meursault is riddled with guilt after having put his mother in a maison pour des vieillards and his thoughts permeate a good part of the recit. I once asked a class about this when we read this text, and they all responded unanimously that that’s the way it is. It never occurred to them it could be different even when I said we don’t have old folks’ home where I come from. So it was an issue in etranger and I felt that in amour, too. The difference is the reverse: it’s the son who lets us into his (guilty) world at having abandoned his mother and in amour it is the parents whose life is put on screen, and whose thought we are privy to.

      • One more thing – the ‘reject’ idea was one point of departure in comparing marigold to amour. Perhaps it wasn’t as strong as in etranger or marigold (a community of rejects who stay at the marigold) but riva needed more than trintignant, the husband, to survive or perhaps overcome, some of her maladies (Children are treasures says Diderot in voyage a bougainvillea; especially for parents during old age).
        Thanks for the great feedback and insight!

  2. […] becomes too sick to endure life, and has to be put to rest [see my blog on this and other films at https://crossingfrontieres.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/death-in-amour-not-an-easy-virtue%5D. polley in her 2006 away from her explores a kind of ‘putting to rest’, too. she shows […]

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