The much lauded Amour, Michael Haneke’s latest film which explores the relationship between two octogenarian, long-married piano teachers, is a movie that deals with end of life and its humiliations, sufferings and ultimate loving dedication. Though it might seem impossible to find fault with depicting an adult topic of such sensitivity, there is a streak of self-righteousness running through this movie that thwarts its ultimate purpose.
We see a husband who is wobbly on his own feet, struggling to care for his stroked-out wife, a woman of talent and elegance who is embarrassed by the failings of her own body. For reasons that are never dealt with, we can only question why the French health care system does not provide the same minimum degree of home care that any American medicare patient would receive. We have often been reminded by the French and other European countries that they are superior to us in such matters so we are befuddled by the husband left to his own devices in caring for a woman who is paralyzed on one side of her body and incontinent. Eventually, a nurse arrives three times a week and later, the husband pays for an additional nurse out of his own pocket. Do the French lack home hospice care? Do they not provide morphine for dying patients? Why was this option not available for this dying patient when it is routinely available in the supposedly less sophisticated USA?
The husband in this movie is meant to represent the highest level of love that one person can feel for another and for Michael Haneke, this apparently means caring for the intimate toilet and physical therapy needs of your spouse yourself as if additional help is an indicator of less love. The daughter, portrayed as a caricature of a shallow, self-centered woman unworthy of her two great progenitors, is arbitrarily excluded by the father from even finding out about her mother’s condition, as he refuses to answer her phone calls for days on end. Though he eventually apologizes for his possessiveness, we are meant to applaud his realization that he alone is responsible for his wife’s well-being during the course of her demise.
Throughout the movie, meticulous in quotidian detail - particularly excessive dish-washing as if the French do not yet have dishwashers in gracious apartments -we see and hear very little intelligent conversation between these artistic people. There is no sense of awareness of anything happening in the world beyond except for the one telling comment read aloud by the husband to his wife as he peruses the daily paper - this concerning the possible reconciliation between the American president and Benjamin Netanyahu. What are we to make of this other than the European obsession with Israel bashing? Michael Haneke has shown in previous movies such as Cache that he is a leftist, still ruminating over the sins of colonialism and their just desserts in our contemporary western culture. Like the UN, the only country that he singles out for our attention in a seemingly apolitical movie is Israel, usually portrayed in European media as a colonial aggressor at best and a fascist apartheid state by default.
Towards the end of the movie, a pigeon flies into the apartment from an open window and we observe how delicately the husband ushers it out to safety. What happens to the luckless pigeon the second time it flies in is a heavy-handed portent for those too dense to remember the opening scene of the movie which is an easily grasped revelation of the melodramatic end. But people who care for their dying loved ones have gentler means available to them than the method chosen by this husband as an act of love. As to his eventual end, it only adds to the suspiciously Christian overtones in this film - with self-abnegation seen as a higher calling, instead of a cowardly renunciation of life. The notion of death with dignity is a subject worthy of our attention. In Amour, it has been subverted by artificial situations that obscure the real options available to us in favor of a relentless celebration of self-sacrifice as the highest form of love.
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