March 29, 2013

Amour

I have walked out of films because I found them execrably bad (Four Weddings and a Funeral), I've walked out of films because I thought the history was inaccurate (ok I didn't see JFK in the cinema but I would have....) but I've never walked out of a film because I found it too painful to watch- or not until now. Amour is a wonderful film- but its a deeply disturbing film because it takes you right to the frontier of what human life is at the end. Its not pretty. It deals with a couple in their old age- they come on to the screen as typical representatives of a particular European intellectual and social class, rejoicing in the classical music that postwar respectability has brought them. The day afterwards they have breakfast together but it slowly becomes evident that she is unable to function properly anymore- she is suffering from several little strokes and will eventually lose her mind and her individuality.

The film's title points I think to its subject- and plenty of other reviewers have made this comment- that amour is about love. Its about sexual love between a couple and the way that that becomes at the end the only love in this case that matters. Children, friends, even former pupils cannot reach the woman who can only be exposed in the nakedness of her madness to her lover. In that sense it says that Lear would have company on the heath, if his queen survived. I think this picture of romantic love is of course very relevant. In a society where generations are torn apart culturally and economically and even technologically, its very difficult to see people outside your cohort as your peers. The picture of love here is an assertion of understanding: the husband asserts he understands the wife in a way that daughters and nurses can't- the problem and I've faced this myself in a small way- is that there is an insistant totalitarianism is this assertion of understanding. Its hard to understand someone who is closed off from the world- but as soon as you start saying that you understand them better than anyone else by virtue of your relationship with them, the ethics get cloudy.

Most people talk about amour as though its a film about the power of love and I suppose yes it is- but I think its more powerful as a film about the limits of love. We are what we think and how we behave ultimately. Once only the shell of the human being is left: what is it that you are loving? I think Emmanuelle Riva's performance conveys this perfectly- the cultivated older woman slips into being a grotesque infant, one without the capacity for growth. What surrounds her is her husband's memories and we call that love: but in reality whereas love is often seen as a moment of communication- this kind of love is a deliberate deception about the continuing of something that has just left. Or rather we are left with the sense that the husband for all his charity and ability to communicate, just can't break through the wall to his wife- can't communicate to her.

3 comments:

goodbanker said...

This is a deep post, even by your standards. Among other things, I alighted upon: "the problem and I've faced this myself in a small way- is that there is an insistant totalitarianism is this assertion of understanding". This may be too personal a question for you - in which case, please just decline to answer (or even to publish my question) - I was wondering if you would be willing to elaborate on your own experiences here, please?

Gracchi said...

I can leave it vague :) I suppose I had a relative who was ill and found it hard to communicate and I always struggled with talking to someone who finds it hard to communicate. There is a sense in which its very easy to start talking for somebody rather than talking to them and I think that's kind of dangerous.

goodbanker said...

Thank you. I can emphathise.