Comedian Louis CK once described marriage as the sort of situation, where, in the best case scenario, one of you is going to die. In fact, every relationship on any level is exactly that. They all end the same. One of you is going to die -- it's the universal constant, the one true thing about reality.
Michael Haneke's film "Amour," which opens at tonight Images Cinema in Williamstown, takes this notion to an almost documentarian level. The story is simple. An older married couple get through life the best they can when the wife falls ill and the husband must care for her. Slowly, the wife slips closer to death.
"Amour" is the type of film that makes apparent the situations that the majority of movies do not usually portray -- ordinary death. Movies are most at ease with spectacular death, often anonymous, the kind that litter action, horror and science fiction spectacles these days. When it comes to ordinary people on the road to death, movies tend to soften the blow as much as possible through sentiment, which is usually delivered with a spoonful of empowerment
"Amour," on the other hand, is most upsetting in that there is nothing extraordinary about the experience of Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva). at all. At least 50 percent of us are going to face our own version of their situation, and so the most depressing part of the film is the point where you see yourself, and that's after the already depressing point where you've recognized your parents.
It also doesn't help that Haneke presents dying as something that is hard to do with dignity. Part of that comes from being kept alive -- some of the steps taken to maintain a person in that situation are, frankly, humiliating. Dying is personal, and the well-meaning intrusions of the medical community and family are breaches in that wall.
And there is nothing pretty or romantic about a person whose body is dying. It's hard to go through, it's hard to envision yourself as you are in that situation and it's mortifying to be the loved one witnessing. Haneke skillfully captures these commonalities.
And, yet, there is something very ungloomy about "Amour."
Maybe it's because even though the situation that Georges and Anne find themselves in is obviously sad, it's also one that they work their way through just like so many of us must.
Their situation is a perfectly normal one, it's a process that binds us.
Equally, the portrayal of love -- the real relationship between two humans who choose to be together for as long as their bodies inhabit this planet -- goes beyond romantic notions and sentimentality, and into a realm of connection and selflessness that transcends what the movies often tell us about love.
"Amour" is hard going. It's difficult to recommend it to anyone, though there are rewards to viewing it.
Technically, it is beautifully filmed and acted, and its honesty as a harsh slice of life is unparalleled.
The question you have to ask yourself before you watch it, though, is if this clear-headed, sober account of the real meaning of love and death is one that you need to see at all. If you decide you do, there will be rewards, though very complicated ones.