Death teaches us that everything can stop in a moment. When everything ends, all that remains is love.
When I went to see "Amour" I knew what it was about. I had read the reviews, knew that some claimed it was not a film I should see or that I would like, let alone stay to the end. But I had to see it and when it was finally over, I’m glad I did.
It is a film everyone should see, grim as it is, for it is likely you will experience the events it depicts. We don’t talk about them, we do everything to avoid that, but when it arrives it will hit you savagely. And there isn’t anything you can do about it now or then.
Over sixty years ago the two main characters in the film, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant were young film stars.
As the film opens, firemen break into a Parisian apartment, begin searching for the source of the foul smell, and discover the body of an old woman in bed. We learn that the woman is Anne (Riva) who along with her husband Georges (Trintignant), now both in their 80s, are musicians.
We switch to a concert hall where eventually we discover them sitting together among the vast audience. They are listening to a performance by a pianist that Anne once taught and to whom he later tells that whatever success he has achieved is due to her.
Like them, their apartment, once quite elegant, appears to be wearing out, yet filled with books, photos, a grand piano, and mementos of their long life together. They are having breakfast, as they do each day. Suddenly Anne begins to stare into the distance, fixed on something. Georges tries to talk to her, she doesn’t reply, he shakes her, asks her what’s the matter, without a reply.
We learn that Anne has had a minor stroke, apparently the result of a blocked carotid artery. An operation must be performed. It is unsuccessful and her condition worsens. She returns to the apartment in a wheel chair, unable to get about on her own, although she is still quite coherent.
She grows weaker, and needs to be helped with the basics, shown in all their reality—eating, cleaning, excreting. George vows to care for her. But eventually it becomes too much. He hires an aid, then another, none stay for long and once again George becomes her only caretaker.
The tenderness George conveys to Anne throughout their long and difficult ordeal is an act of the purest love. It is the other half of this grim movie.
In The Coming of Age Simone de Beauvoir writes, “When we look at the image of our own future provided by the old we do not believe it: an absurd inner voice whispers that that will never happen to us—when that happens it will no longer be ourselves that it happens to.” Beauvoir wrote that sentence over 40 years ago. How prescient she was.
Our future is longer than it was then. The so-called marvels of medicine will keep you alive almost forever now. But as she said, you will no longer be the you that you are now. "Amour" makes it clear what you will become and the way it will affect those who love you.
Almost everyone who sees "Amour" has two reactions. It is difficult to watch and once you’ve seen it, you can’t get it out of your mind. The film delivers an important message, a personal message to everyone in this increasingly medicalized world. The experience you live through in watching the film will in time occur to you. The only unknown is when.
It is for that reason that it is such an important film to see, in spite of its excruciating depiction of old age. You have to ask yourself if you want to do anything about it, rather than let it unexpectedly descend on you. When it does, it will be too late. Who can predict when it is time to act?